Shrimp and Beer Are the New Tequila and Tacos This Cinco de Mayo

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This looks like a good year for fans of Cinco de Mayo.

The May 5 holiday has traditionally been a profitable one for bars and restaurants, ranking even higher than Mother’s Day. Even in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Mexican restaurants saw a notable jump in sales; the Arkansas-based chain Tacos 4 Life reported an 87% increase in business compared with the previous week.

This year, the holiday won’t fall on a (Taco) Tuesday, like it did last year, but it does coincide with the lifting of restrictions in such places as New York City, where Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that customers can once again sit at the bar—starting May 3. 

Shrimp and Beer Are the New Tequila and Tacos This Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, the commemoration of a victory by the Mexican army over Napoleon III in 1862, is more popular in the U.S. than it is south of the border. Since there are no official dishes that accompany the holiday—although tacos and tequila invariably loom large—as with everything else in 2021, it’s a good year to rethink traditions.

A new cookbook from virtuoso Seattle chef Renee Erickson, Getaway: Food & Drink to Transport You (Abrams Books; $40), offers some inspiration. Plus it’s a timely read for everyone who is armchair dreaming of a food-centric destination.

Erickson’s tome, written with Sara Dickerman, highlights her favorite eating and drinking spots around the globe: Paris, Rome, Normandy, London, Baja, and Seattle. “I’m drawn to the places where people look the most at ease,” she writes. “Those informal, bustling spaces like cafes and street-side bars where even a tourist like me feels like I’m part of the living city.”

Shrimp and Beer Are the New Tequila and Tacos This Cinco de Mayo

The 120 recipes Erickson compiled as an ode to those spots cover some well-traveled ground—but still feel singular. Her Rome section offers Ricotta and Roasted Cherry Tomato Crostini with Too Much Olive Oil, as well as lamb chops scottadito, inspired by a beloved spot, Armando al Pantheon. She offers Roast Beef Tartines for a Crowd, from her trusty wine destination, Bar de la Croix Rouge, in Paris, and Ham with Piccallilli (mustard pickle) from London’s Maltby Market. The book also has a generous array of cocktails, like Your Favorite Melon and Mint Mojitos (Seattle) and Lillet Martinis (Paris).

In the Baja section is Erickson’s recipe for shrimp cocktail, and it’s a great choice for anyone who wants something new for Cinco de Mayo or wants a way to transport themselves to a beach on the western edge of Mexico, or both. 

It’s not the version most of America envisions when they think shrimp cocktail—there’s no steroid-size shellfish perched alongside a mound of potent cocktail sauce or grated horseradish. Instead, Erickson, a strong proponent of sustainable seafood, poaches wild sweet shrimp in a bath of Mexican lager and dried chili to give it a refreshing and contrasting bitter bite.

Then it’s all chilled back down and piled in a bowl, where brightly flavored cilantro oil, thin fresh chili slices, refreshing tomato slices, and lots of lime join the party. The unlikely finishing touch is a plate of Saltine crackers. Use them to scoop up the shrimp and the result is delightful: a crispy, flaky bite to go with the chewy shrimp and its spicy, juicy marinade.

“You could use tortillas, make a taco out of the shrimp,” says Erickson. “But Saltines are what I’ve had the most when I’ve had this dish. And they’ll surprise you.”

The recipe calls for a couple of cans of Mexican lager for cooking. “I recommend picking up a six-pack, leaving you with a few extra beers to enjoy alongside the shrimp,” says Erickson. But why wait even to be done cooking? It’s a celebration, after all. 

The following recipe is adapted from Getaway by Renee Erickson with Sara Dickerman.

Shrimp Cocktail With Tomato and Cilantro Oil

Shrimp and Beer Are the New Tequila and Tacos This Cinco de Mayo

Serves 6

1 cup chopped cilantro stems and leaves
1 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp. seeded and roughly chopped serrano chile, plus 1 serrano, very thinly sliced
30 shell-on wild Gulf shrimp, size 16–20, deveined
Two 12-oz. cans or bottles of light-bodied Mexican lager, like Tecate or Pacifico
1 dried ancho or guajillo chile
5 tbsp. lime juice, plus more to taste
1 medium tomato, cut into slim wedges, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Saltine crackers, to serve

Shrimp and Beer Are the New Tequila and Tacos This Cinco de Mayo

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the cilantro stems and turn off the heat. After 30 seconds, drain the stems, then let cool. In a blender, combine the stems, oil, ½ tsp. salt, and the roughly chopped serrano and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve.

In a medium saucepan, bring the beer, ancho, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard the chile.

Bring the beer mixture to a boil again. Place half the shrimp in the liquid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the shellfish turn pink and the meat is just opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plate, and put them in the refrigerator to cool. Repeat with the remaining shrimp.

When the shrimp are cool, peel them and cut in half lengthwise. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the tomato, about ½ cup of the cilantro oil, the remaining 3 tablespoons lime juice, and ½ teaspoon salt.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with more cilantro oil, salt, or lime if desired. Sprinkle with the serrano slices and serve with Saltines.

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