“La cruda” is such an evocative name. It literally means raw, but in Mexico it is used to describe a bad hangover, from which many Mexicans will be suffering on New Year’s Day! Across the country, the “zocalos”, central squares, and “plazas” will be teaming with revellers, music and festivities, the tequila, pulque and beer will be flowing, and the celebrations will continue until dawn of the brand new year.
Churros and hot chocolate are a delicious and traditional way to welcome El Año Nuevo, but the waiter at La Concha Beach Club in Acapulco had a different suggestion. As we sat down to lunch at a table looking out across the bay, he served us two glasses of a rather drab-looking, cloudy consommé which he presented as “caldo de camarón” or shrimp broth. The flavour was savoury and warming, light but comforting, energising as well as soothing. In answer to my queries about the caldo, he took me through his mother’s recipe and informed me that there is nothing like it to ease an aching head and cure an excess of alcohol. He recommended the inclusion of guajillo chillies and the use of “polvo de camarón”, shrimp powder, but having experimented with the señora’s quite vague recipe, I have found that a sweeter chilli, like a “pasilla”, has a more rounded effect and subtle heat, and as shrimp powder is not widely available, I am featuring raw tiger prawns complete with shells and heads.
Needless to say, caldo de camarón is delicious enough in its own right, and needs no help from a hangover!
Shrimp broth – Caldo de camarón
200 g/7 oz raw prawns/shrimp, with shells and heads, defrosted if frozen
15 ml/1 tbsp olive oil
150 g/5 oz onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 hottish red chilli, including seeds, coarsely chopped
200 g/7 oz tomatoes, coarsely chopped
7.5 ml/1.5 tsp pasilla chilli flakes or powder, or to taste
15 ml/1 tbsp dried epazote (or a large sprig of fresh epazote if you can find it)
15 ml/1 tbsp bouillon powder
500 ml/1 pint water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel and devein the prawns, reserving the shells and heads. Dice the flesh and set it aside.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add the onions, garlic, red chilli and prawn shells and heads. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onions and garlic are soft and starting to brown. Mix in the tomatoes and continue to cook until they have broken down into a mush. Sprinkle in the chilli flakes and epazote, and cook for two or three minutes longer. Pour in the water, give it all a good stir, cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
Pour the broth through a sieve into a clean saucepan, pressing down hard on the solids to extract all the liquid and flavour.
Bring the caldo back to the boil, add the diced prawns and remove from the heat. Set aside for five minutes, by which time the prawns will be cooked. Grind in some black pepper and taste for seasoning. It is unlikely that you will need any salt, as the prawn shells and bouillon will probably have provided sufficient salinity, but taste and adjust as necessary – and if it is not spicy enough for you, feel free to add more chilli flakes.
Pour the broth into two mugs and welcome in the New Year.
Feliz Año Nuevo – Happy New Year!