“Tortas De Camarón Molido”- powdered shrimp cakes
When the Catholic religion arrived in Texas in the 16th century, it gave rise to recipes that are in tune with the Catholic Church’s liturgical year. Today being “Good Friday” (commemorating the ignominious torture and death of Jesus Christ) I’m making one very traditional and very delicious Lenten recipe. My amá served these little shrimp cakes regularly during Lent, especially on Good Friday because we were doing penance by not eating meat.
When I cook dishes that have hundred-year-old histories and traditions, I think about their provenance. How did the indigenous communities negotiate the diminishment of their ancestral religion, and how does this show in our food today? Are there lessons to be learned about religious encounter?
Powdered shrimp does not require refrigeration so a bag of it is easy to store. It was in our kitchen often during Lent. The dried shrimp flavor is quite present, so you will enjoy that the little cakes soak up the tomato sauce and soften the strong shrimp flavor. These cakes make you forget that you are doing penance.
Recipe (makes 8 cakes)
1-1/2 ounces dried shrimp powder (1/2 cup)
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Canola oil for frying
6 fresh or canned tomatoes, diced (1-1/2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dry Texas Mexican oregano
1. In a blender, purée the tomatoes with the garlic and oregano. Pour the purée into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20–30 minutes. Hold warm.
2. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and then add the shrimp powder and bread crumbs and mix well. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add the shrimp mixture and combine well. The consistency should be that of a thick batter. Add a tablespoon of water if the mixture is too thick.
4. In a skillet, add canola oil to a depth of barely 1/8 inch and heat on medium until it shimmers slightly. Spoon the batter into the oil to make 4-inch cakes. Fry them about 2 minutes on each side until they are golden and crispy. Place them on paper towels.
Serve two tortas de camarón on each plate and top with a generous ribbon of the tomato sauce. I suggest that you serve them with cactus, roasted or sautéed.
!Provecho” and Have a Good Friday.
Recipe adapted from “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes.”