Spot Prawn and Raja Enchiladas
With a Creamy Buttermilk Sauce
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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 related to 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 like me, you can check out El Comal in Burnaby).
Nutritional information is given for a single serving (2 enchiladas plus a portion of sauce).
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.
Spot Prawn and Raja Enchiladas with Buttermilk Sauce
- 3 medium poblano peppers
- 450 g spot prawn tails 18/20 count, peeled, shells/tails reserved
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup Mexican crema (see note)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 tsp sea salt or to taste
- 1 large tomatillo (about 80 g or 1/2 cup) diced
- 8 corn tortillas
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter (divided into 1/2 and 1-1/2 tbsp portions)
- Roast the poblano peppers under a broiler, over a gas flame, or on an outdoor grill (the latter is my personal favorite way to do this). Turn the peppers occasionally until the skins are blackened all over. Place the roasted peppers in a large bowl and cover tightly (a fitted lid or plastic wrap works well). Set aside for at least 20 minutes, and up to several hours.
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium and add 1/2 tbsp of the butter. Add the shrimp shells and tails (DO NOT add the shrimp itself), garlic, and a pinch of the salt. Saute gently until the shells are crisp and bright reddish-pink and the garlic is fragrant; about 3 minutes. Add approximately 1.5 cups of water to the pan, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow the broth to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Strain the mixture and set the broth aside.
- Combine the Mexican crema and buttermilk on the stovetop in a medium-sized pot. Heat gently, but do NOT bring to a boil/simmer (the cream will curdle and split). Add the nutmeg, and bay leaves, then add 1 cup of the shrimp stock and the remaining salt. Adjust the salt to taste. Once the mixture is heated-through (again, not simmering), keep it warm on the lowest stovetop setting you have.
- While the sauce is heating (and while the shrimp are cooking if you're particularly good at multi-tasking), heat a heavy, dry cast iron pan or comal over medium heat. Add the tortillas and toast them for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. They should brown or blister a little bit, and become pliable. You can do one tortilla at a time, but if you fit more of them into the pan without overlapping them, feel free to do several at once.
- Melt the remaining butter (1.5 tbsp) in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the diced tomatillo to the pan and saute for 30 seconds. Add the spot prawns and cook evenly until just done - about 3-4 minutes. Make sure to turn the shrimp to cook both sides evenly, and remember that you want the center to be just past that translucent/raw stage.
- Peel, seed, and slice the poblano peppers into long strips. Dunk a corn tortilla in the buttermilk sauce, then lay it flat on a plate. Fill with a few prawns, some tomatillo, and a few poblano strips. Spoon a tablespoon of sauce over the mixture and fold the tortilla over (because spot prawns are fairly large, you probably don't want to roll these enchiladas - a simple fold-over will do). Spoon some more sauce over the closed enchilada. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and fillings, and serve immediately.
I have never tried spot prawns, and I think that for my first exposure to them, I would hold off the dairy sauce to let them shine. Love the peppers and other flavours here though – very balanced!
I like your way of thinking about the spot prawns (why bury something so delicate AND expensive after all), and for a first-timer, I might suggest the simplest treatment of all (boiling and serving). But I will say that this sauce is surprisingly mild. It adds creamy richness, but it doesn’t overwhelm in the slightest.
Thanks for commenting, and for the compliments Ksenia!
So much good stuff here! I love all the ingredient options you’ve given, especially the alternative to jocoque. There are a couple Mexican grocery shops around town, and I don’t visit them nearly enough because they aren’t close by, but I suppose they might have jocoque… maybe!
I’m glad you discussed corn vs flour tortillas. I’m really not a fan of the flour tortillas. They’re much too bland for me. I don’t think they taste good at all. Convenient, yes. Easier to manipulate because they are more moist/bendy. Your tips for toasting them first is spot on. Otherwise they crack!
Thank you Janice! Jocoque is great, but you’ve got to have alternatives to obscure or unobtainable ingredients – people don’t need obstacles when it comes to exploring new food!
I do like flour tortillas, but I tend to like them with very cheesy meals, or very boldly spiced red meat. But yeah, for something like this (or any enchilada recipe), it’s go corn, or go home.
Hi Sean great post, love all the tid bits of info. I have tried the spot prawns and you are absolutely correct, delicious. I am also with you on the sauces. I rather enjoyed the language lesson and learning the different dilects. As for your enchiladas one word brilliant. Love the colors, textures, close to lunch here and appetite is ignited. Great post and wonderful recipe. Have not done enchiladas but you have summoned my passion so it is definately in the works.
Have a great day!
Thank you Loreto! You know, before this month I’d long been an enchilada-admirer, but not an enchilada-maker. Now that I’ve made then, I can only say… do it! They’re easy, and they’re SO worthwhile. I’m really glad you enjoyed so much about this post. Your kind words mean a lot to me.
I learned about spot prawns last year when I was researching the Ocean Wise program for an article. I finally got to try one (literally one!) as an appetizer at a restaurant in Toronto, and it was tasty! It would be nice to see more restaurants using them, as they are sustainable, but you’re right they are also expensive. Anyhow, your enchiladas look tasty, I’ll have to try them soon 🙂
Well at least you got ONE… they do tend to command quite the price tag, especially as you get away from the West Coast. They are simply amazing though, and, as we’ve both said, incredibly sustainable. If you can’t get them, sidestripe prawns would work really well in this dish, as would some of any of the sustainably farmed black tiger prawns (though they can be a trick to find thanks to the overabundance of unsustainable alternatives). Thanks for the comments and the compliments!
Right on with the corn vs. flour tortillas for enchiladas. The corn ones definitely are more authentic and do hold up to the moisture of the sauce much better than their counterparts. I much enjoy your blog posts as they are both educational and inviting! Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe.
I have nothing against flour tortillas, but there’s a time and a place… and that place is not in an enchilada! 😀
I’m glad you’re enjoying my work. Thanks so much for coming by and for stopping to comment – it’s very much appreciated.
These enchiladas would be perfect for a summer barbeque feast! Prawns grilled over an open flame and the enchiladas served with some fried beans and salad..not to mention a good home brew!Yummy!
I do love some flame-grilled seafood. That sounds amazing. And a big ol’ yes to the homebrew! Thanks for commenting Markus!
Corn tortillas all the way for me! I love how much thought and research goes into your recipes. Spot prawn season is almost as fleeting as fiddlehead season – sounds like you’re making the most of it.
Thank you Teresa! That means a lot to me. And yeah, I’m certainly trying to get the most from my spot prawns… and my wallet! 😉
All I want now is fish tacos. And it’s Tuesday so… Taco Tuesday! *happy dance!*
I do too. But really, I always want tacos. 😀