Spot Prawn and Raja Enchiladas
With a Creamy Buttermilk Sauce
It’s spot prawn season here in British Columbia, and that’s always exciting for me. It’s also a little terrifying when I remember how much spot prawns cost – a side effect of their escalating global popularity. The prawns themselves are delicious, local (for me anyway), and incredibly sustainable – all factors that have led to increased prices over the last few years. I’m not complaining though – I’d be very happy to see more success stories in the world of sustainable fisheries. So while I look forward to using them, I also look forward to figuring out how to incorporate them into my meals without breaking the bank. Fortunately, you can build a great meal around approximately four prawns per person, and I’m going to tell you how in a little class called Enchilada 101.
I’ve always enjoyed enchiladas, but I’d never really given them much thought as a cook before this month. When I started looking at recipes I realized something that I wanted to share with you all (and if this isn’t really news to you, I apologize – perhaps I’d been confused by too many baked-and-cheese-covered enchiladas): they’re just tacos-plus-sauce. I’m not saying that dismissively; I love tacos, and the fact that you get to drench them in delicious sauce is just wonderful in my books. True, they can be rolled up into nice tight little cylinders, but they don’t have to be, and if they are served folded over (as is the case here), they’re even easier to put together.
Now that we’ve dismissed any notion that they’re overly complicated or confusing, let’s talk about what you need to do to make enchiladas amazing. First and foremost, the sauce has to really knock your socks off. Bear in mind that you’re going to dunk the tortilla in this sauce AND pour it over top, so you want it to be goooooood. There are all kinds of enchilada sauces to work with – in fact, more accurate Spanish terminology is used to describe the various enchilada types depending on the sauce used. For example, an enchilada made with a creamy tomato-based sauce is actually an entomatada. If I was in Mexico, this would be an enjococada, because I’d be able to buy a dairy product called jocoque. Jocoque is basically a buttermilk-like thin yogurt – not quite cream, not quite… well, not quite anything but what it is. I can’t get jocoque here, but a wonderful substitute can be made by mixing Mexican crema (or crème fraîche – see note below) and buttermilk. The rich dairy base gets you half-way there on the sauce; a simple broth made with the shrimp shells ties everything together (plus it helps you avoid waste and get more out of your prawns). I should note that As is the case with several of my recipes this month, I owe a debt of inspiration to the wonderful Pati Jinich. Her enjococada recipe can be found in her wonderful new book “Mexican Today,” and I’ve adapted the buttermilk/cream sauce component here.
The next key to a good enchilada is a good tortilla. Use corn. For some reason, the use of flour tortillas in enchiladas has proliferated at Mexican and Tex Mex places in the US and Canada, but please don’t use flour. I love flour tortillas, and they’re definitely legitimately Mexican, but they just don’t work with enchiladas. The flavour combination is weird, but the biggest issue is the way the fall apart with sauce. If you make your own fresh tortillas (a surprisingly addictive bit of kitchen DIY) you won’t have to worry about the next step, but if you buy corn tortillas (or use day-old or frozen home-made) you need to make sure that you toast them in a hot pan before filling them. This renders them pliable and improves the flavour – without this step, they’re likely to crumble and crack when folded or rolled.
The last step might seem exceptionally important (and it is), but it’s also quite simple. The filling needs to be great, and it needs to work with the sauce. As I mentioned in my Red Pipian Seafood Soup recipe, you need to marry the sauce to the other ingredients. That’s already been done for you here by incorporating the shrimp stock into the sauce. The combination of prawns and tomatillos is very easy to cook, and the only major key to success is ensuring that you don’t overcook the the prawns.
There you go. Enchilada 101. If you’re at all hesitant, trust me – they’re easy enough to make on a weeknight. If you have the sauce ready ahead of time (you can combine the ingredients the night before, refrigerate it, and warm it up before you cook) then it’s even faster.
If you can get spot prawns – do! They’re amazingly delicious, and the fishery that harvests them is a great example of a sustainable success story. That being said, they’re seasonal and not available everywhere, so you could substitute other prawns/shrimp as well. If you do, I strongly encourage you to investigate sustainable and socially conscious options. Many shrimp fisheries (especially in Asia) are suffering from the combined problems stemming from severe environmental degradation and issues around slave labour. As a seafood consumer, you can make a positive choice and have an impact that extends far beyond your dinner table. For more information on environmentally sustainable seafood choices, you can read more about the Ocean Wise, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and Marine Stewardship Council programs at their respective websites.
Rajas are simply strips of roasted poblano pepper. They’re easy to make, delicious, and generally fairly mild in terms of spice – poblanos are usually only a tiny bit spicy, but every once in a while you will end up with one inexplicable fiery pepper. If you can’t get poblanos, or you want something with zero spice, you can substitute bell peppers. Green peppers will be closer in taste to a poblano while red/yellow/orange peppers will be sweeter.
As mentioned above, this sauce can be made with a cultured milk product called jocoque seco sauce rather than Mexican crema and buttermilk, but this is exceptionally hard to find outside of Mexico. If you can get jocoque, use an equal volume of it in place of the crema and buttermilk.
If you can’t get Mexican crema itself, you can use (or make) crème fraîche. To make crème fraîche, combine 2 tbsp of buttermilk with 1 cup of heavy cream and let stand on the counter for 4-6 hours. Mexican crema tends to be a little thinner than crème fraîche, so you can let it sit for a somewhat shorter time than you might otherwise. Some argue that Mexican crema is a little sweeter, though I think this is a matter of taste and wide variation. In any case, you can add 1/2 tsp of sugar if you choose. I realize that making a sauce in order to make a sauce that replaces a third unavailable sauce might sound a bit crazy, but I promise that the labour involved is quite minimal.
Note that you will have leftover sauce with this recipe – if you’re trying to save on ingredients, you can safely cut the amount of sauce by at least 1/3, possibly even 1/2. If you do end up with extra sauce, you can use it to just dip toasted corn tortillas, or as a sauce in/on tortas (Mexican sandwiches). It would also make a pretty stellar cream sauce for pasta with seafood. Use your imagination, but use it up within about 3 days.
As I mentioned above, you want to use soft corn tortillas to make these (and all) enchiladas. Don’t substitute flour tortillas. If you’re feeling particularly DIY (I won’t say ‘adventurous’ because it’s actually really easy) you could try your hand at home made corn tortillas. If not, many conventional grocery stores carry acceptable corn tortillas, and many cities will have a specialty Latin grocery store that will carry fresher ones. If you’re lucky, you may even have a tortilleria in your city that makes fresh ones (if you’re in the Lower Mainland of BC, you can check out El Comal in Burnaby).
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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