8.17.2013

So Far From the Ocean?

When Mark was young, his mother would say not to order fish unless you could see, hear, or smell the ocean. When only 45 minutes from the ocean, we have heard people order clam chowder only to be asked, "So far from the ocean?"

Map by Paul Mirocha, Desert Botanical Garden
Here in the desert, seafood is a big tradition... and, yet, so far from the ocean! I am not joking; one of the specialties of the Sonoran Desert is seafood. Looking at the map above, you can easily see why. The Sonoran Desert - most of which is in the state of Sonora, México - has a significant salt water presence. And that, my friends, is whence our local seafood tradition comes.

Many of you know of fish or shrimp tacos. When we moved here, my goal was to find the best shrimp taco in town. I am still looking, but definitely have a few favorites. And, in the process, I have found some really incredible Mexican food.

In town, there is a local chain of restaurants called Mariscos Chihuahua. Mariscos is Spanish for seafood. One day, on our way back from a morning visit to the Desert Museum, we saw the sign for the restaurant and, as we were starving, decided to stop in.

Mariscos Chihuahua as founded in 1971 in Nogales, Sonora (México), just over the border from Nogales, Arizona (USA). Its original name was simply, "Mariscos." It happened to be right next to a fruit stand called Fruteria Chihuahua.

It became quite popular with locals and tourists alike in Nogales. When people would ask how to find it, they were told, "Right next to the Fruteria Chihuahua." That eventually was shortened to, "Right next to Chihuahua." And, before you know it, the names elided into one - Mariscos Chihuahua.

The family who owned it grew. Several of the younger generation moved to Tucson, where they opened eponymous restaurants in different parts of town. There are now seven here in Tucson and the original one in Nogales, Sonora.

That day, when we sat down and looked at their extensive menu, I zoomed right in on one dish: Camarones Culichi – sautéed shrimp in a creamy poblano sauce, topped with cheese. What's not to like? We order it every time we go there. Now we make it at home. You can make it at home, too!

For those of you who don't eat seafood (yes, I know who you are!), this recipe is great with chicken and pork, too!

¡Vamos a cocinar!

~ David

Camarones Culichi

5 large poblano chiles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large white onion, diced
1 7.6-ounce can Nestlé media crema (see notes)
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken base (see notes)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if your poblanos are too mild)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds raw small shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup queso fresco or grated Mexican cheese
flour tortillas or rice for serving
garnishes: cilantro, tomatoes, avocados, Mexican limes


Roast the poblano chiles on the grill or on the gas flame of your stove until very black. Place the roasted chiles in a paper bag, close tightly and then place in a plastic bag. Seal the plastic bag and let sit 10 minutes to soften the skins. Remove as much of the blackened skin as possible, but do not run them under water to help, as it will take away flavor. Slice open; remove and discard seeds and stems. Place seeded chiles in a blender.


Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion till just beginning to turn golden. Add onion and any accumulated oil to the blender.


To the peppers and onion, add the media cream, whole milk, and chicken stock concentrate. Purée until the mixture is absolutely smooth and creamy. Taste and add salt, if needed (the soup base concentrate - even when low-sodium - has a significant amount of salt). Pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. (Sauce can be prepared two days in advance and kept refrigerated. Bring to a simmer before proceeding.)


Melt butter over medium-high heat on a large skillet and add shrimp. Sauté until pink and just cooked through. Do not overcook.


Preheat broiler to high.


Divide shrimp among 6 small, oven-proof bowls and then evenly pour heated sauce over the shrimp. Top the sauce with the grated cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and turning golden. Serve at once with white rice or tortillas, with garnishes on the side.


Serves 6.


Note: 

• You might have trouble finding the media crema. It can be found in Latino grocery stores, and in the international isle in some supermarkets. If you can't find it, you can substitute crème fraîche, although it will be slightly tangier. 
• I use Minor's low-sodium chicken base, but there are other brands readily available. Make sure it is a paste, and not granules or in cube form. 

26 comments:

  1. I like the nod to us chicken or pork eaters! Any recipe with creamy and poblano must be good, and I love places that go back to probably heritage recipes. This one is simple and with queso fresco, which I love! Chihuahua is also a dog breed, one of the small ones.

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    1. Paula - the pork and chicken reference was especially for you! You must try this sauce - you will love it! When Mark and I talk about the little dogs (as opposed to the state in México) We always say Cha-hoo-ah-hoo-ah. :)

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  2. I am so glad I found your lovely blog! I love good Mexican food. We just moved back to Colorado from Texas and we are sadly very far from the ocean. I still want to try this recipe though! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. I am glad you found me, Monet! This is one of those dishes that I think you will make more than once. Colorado is such a beautiful state - I imagine being far from the ocean is hard, but the mountains and green of Colorado cannot be beat!

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  3. I am a big fan of seafood, I'm not so sure that I can sniff the ocean from my place but a good 40 minute drive will get me there. This dish sounds magic and as we don't have any Mexican restaurants where we live I will have to try making it myself!

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    1. Karen - it never occurred to me that, unlike Chinese, Indian and Italian food, Mexican is not readily available everywhere. Glad I was able to help with this recipe! In my mind, 40 minutes is PLENTY close to the ocean! :)

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    2. Yes sad but true about the Mexican food, I once visited a Mexican restaurant when I was in NZ which was owned and run by a Mexican chef, it was truly some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life. I would love to be able to eat it more so I am following your recipes with great interest!

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    3. Well, you really MUST visit us in Tucson! Great Mexican food here! Did you see my recipe for Chiles en Nogada? That is a truly wonderful dish that I first saw in the movie "Like Water for Chocolate." If you haven't seen that movie, it is a feast for the eyes and the palate. The quails in rose petal sauce are also amazing.

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  4. Haha! Like Paula, I immediately thought 'seafood dog!' when I read Mariscos Chihuahua :) Thanks for telling us the story behind it. So much fun! This recipe looks beautiful David! Gorgeous fresh flavours, colours, quintessential cheese. I can imagine wrapping the lot into a warm tortilla with some corn and fresh herbs... mmm. By the way, in some respects I like Mark's mother's thinking. Seafood always tastes better when you can smell the saltwater in the air ;)

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    1. I like "seafood dog!" Until you and Paula said it, I never made that connection! I hope you like this, Laura - we find it quite addictive!

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  5. Oh my goodness. Seafood and Mexican food are my two favourite things in the world, so when you combine the two it makes me deliriously happy. One of the big draws for us with our move to Tasmania was the availability of fresh fish and shellfish, so I can't wait to get there and try this out!

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    1. Ruth - the best part of your move (for me) will be all the good food you get to try! From what I gather from my Australian blog friends, it looks like the foodie scene down there is amazing. Not sure about Tasmania, though... :) When we moved to Tucson from Maine, I thought we would never get good seafood. But, with the ocean so close we have some really good choices! Good luck with the move.

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  6. I LOVE poblanos!
    D, this dish looks wicked delicious. We're going to have it one night this week. xo

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    1. "Wicked delicious?" Sounds like you are from Maine, Colette! :) And, yes, it is wicked delicious! xox

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  7. Wow, this looks amazing! REALLY amazing! I like what Mark's mom said about being close to the ocean. I might just use that. ;-)

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    1. Sadly, Valentina, I cannot say that I can smell the ocean here in Tucson, but when I look out at all the sand and know (from reading books and in my heart) that this WAS an ocean, I don't feel so bad... The desert is just an ocean with better views! :)

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  8. First of all, this recipe sounds fantastic! We are lucky enough to live at the beach in SoCal, so it's safe enough for us - LOL!

    Secondly, I learned a lot from reading this post. I never realized how close to the water Tuscon is - being in the middle of the desert, I assumed it wasn't. I also never realized how close it is to San Diego - I've only traveled there by plane.

    I also learned a new word (despite my degree in English!) - "eponymous." You gotta love dictionary.com.

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    1. Yeah - I like to throw in a few four-syllable words here and there! :) Susan, while we are lucky enough to get fresh seafood from México, I think you have us all beat hands down for being "close to the ocean!" Glad you like the recipe!

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  9. David, we do not really eat Mexican food here at all - there is not even one authentic Mexican restaurant that I know of and this is the first that I have heard of Camarones Culichi - it seems that I still have a lot to learn about Mexican food and this recipe looks utterly delicious - what a fabulous treat! Und solche tollen Fotos, David!

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    1. Andrea - you confirm my suspicions that this is one cuisine that hasn't gone world-wide yet! What I find amazing is the variety of cuisines in Mexico that differ state to state! Maybe I should do more Mexican cooking on C&L! Danke für Ihre netten Wörter über meine Fotos! Dieses ist solch ein Kompliment, weil Ihre Fotos wunderbar sind.

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  10. So glad to find your blog (saw your comment over at Valentina's—a blogging bud of mine here in LA).

    I went to school at U of A and lived in Tucson for eight years. I remember going to Nogales and having a Superior or Corona for 35 cents and a seafood meal of shrimp or octopus for $2.50. (yup, that's what 30 years ago was like). Salúd!

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    1. Thanks, Adair! Do you ever get back to Tucson to visit? We could grab some camarones culichi! (But not for those 30-year-old prices!) It would be fun to hear about food in those days - I work at the UA Honors College (it was the Honors Program when you were here) and most alumni only mention one food item - Eegees!

      I am glad you found me through Valentina! Hope you come back soon!

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  11. I loved this post.. The geography lesson was particularly interesting. The dish looks fantastic!! I was not at all familiar with it but can't wait to become acquainted with it.

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    1. Thanks, Susan! This might be a dish your mother and brother would like, as it is not something one sees often on menus in Mexican restaurants.

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  12. We ate at Mariscos Chihuahua a few nights ago. I of course had the Camarones Culichi again. The last time I had it was about 20 years ago on a visit to Tucson and I just had to have it again. I was privileged to meet the owner of the establishment on our way out to our car and I complimented him on the food and in particular the Camarones Culichi. I tried to get some hint of the ingredients from him but he shared very little other than a smile and the fact that there is no tomatillos in the sauce. Since you have had both the original and your own version, tell me are they identical? Close? Please share cuz I am going to make this for my friends in south TX using wild caught Gulf shrimp if this is a good replication. Dave V.

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    1. Hi Dave - I cannot say they are identical, but I have come as close as I can. I wasn't able to get any secrets, either... Let me know what you think if you try it.

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