Shrimp in Vanilla Sauce From Papantla

Time 40 minutes
Yields Serves 1 to 2
Shrimp in pulque with vanilla is served at Nak restaurant.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
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Vanilla is much more than a dessert ingredient in Papantla, a city in the Mexican state of Veracruz once famous for producing the spice. Local artisans braid vanilla’s dark stems, and several restaurants offer a variety of vanilla-infused dishes. Irma Cortés Ramírez, a chef at Nakú, created Shrimp in Vanilla Sauce while experimenting in the Papantla restaurant’s kitchen. As a child in Papantla, she watched as her grandparents added vanilla to atole and to a chayote squash soup. The spice, she said, gives her shrimp dish “a sweet touch, a touch of love.”


Shrimp in Vanilla Sauce


In a blender jar, combine the crema, mayonnaise, evaporated milk, peppercorns, garlic and habanero chile and blend until smooth, taking care not to overblend. Set aside.


Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and gently cook until just opaque on the bottom. Flip them using tongs and continue cooking until the other side just starts to turn opaque, about 2 minutes total. Add the mixture from the blender and then add the pulque (or tequila or mezcal, if using), vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, chicken bouillon flavoring and salt. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the sauce thickens enough to densely coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes.


Serve with steamed vegetables such as squash, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower and warm corn tortillas.

Use U-10 shrimp, which means they are colossal-size (10 shrimp in one pound).