Aguachile is the original idea of "surf and turf" cuisine. A dish that perfectly marries the freshness of the sea and the dry heat of the Mexican inland forests.
But more than just flavor, Aguachile is a roadmap to the history of Mexican culture. Before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, indigenous communities lived in the precipitous hills that make up modern-day Sinaloa's eastern border. The indigenous people would dry meat and carry it from those rugged hills down to the Pacific coast, where they would trade the meat for salt with the civilizations that were established there.
In a container similar to a molcajete, salt would be mixed with a berry-sized chile called chiltepín. Although small in its size, chiltepín is packed with heat unlike any other pepper in Mexico. Together, the salt and chiltepín would be perfectly ground with the addition of water that traveled eleven rivers and countless streams across Sinaloa's hills before joining the seafood-rich lagoons of the Pacific coast. This mixture, is a sort of pre-Hispanic salsa, and got its name for the two primary ingredients used: Agua (water) and chile (pepper), hence the name Aguachile.
Although Aguachile gained recent popularity across both Mexico and the U.S and can be found in most modern Mexican restaurants, it's a dish that pays no attention to social class and has been enjoyed for centuries by both working-class Mexicans, and 5-star restaurants connoisseurs.
Unfortunately, the production of chiltepín has declined since the 19th century, when dictator Porfirio Díaz sold off massive amounts of indigenous land to foreign investors for industrialized farming. Throughout the 20th century, there was no effort to control deforestation which has eliminated the majority of the wild chiltepín habitat. Due to this, most of chiltepín can only be found in the "golden triangle" that is formed by the borders of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. If you wanted to get your hands on some fresh chiltepín, you would need access to someone who has contacts in that area. Not an easy task.
This lack of access to chiltepín has forced Aguachile to flex and adapt throughout the years. Today, most Aguachile dishes are made with cousins of chiltepín such as serrano peppers and jalapeños.
There is no trace of when shrimp began to appear as part of this dish. Some suspect it was Japanese migrant influence, but we have no record of this. What is important, however, is that we don't mistake Aguachile for the shrimp and continue to honor its indigenous history and respect the mestizaje that took place for the dish's creation.
When making this dish, it is best practice to use sustainably sourced blue shrimp from the Pacific coast. Any shrimp will do, but if you want the real deal, blue shrimp is what is traditionally used.
This dish is perfect for hot summer weather as it requires no source of heat and it's best enjoyed on a tostada. ¡Salud!
Aguachile Shrimp and Vegan version
- 1 lb of raw blue shrimp, peeled and deveined. Tails on optional (or sub for 1.5 lb of king oyster mushrooms for a vegan version)
- 2 large limes
- ½ teaspoon of sea salt, divided
- ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons of white vinegar
- 2 serrano peppers
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 1 garlic clove
- 4 large limes
- 1 cup of cilantro ( with some stems)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Avocado slices
- Cucumber slices
- Olive oil
Preparing the shrimp:
- Place shrimp in a shallow bowl or plate, making sure the shrimp do not overlap. Squeeze the juice from the two limes on the shrimp. This will cause the shrimp to cook. Sprinkle shrimp with ¼ teaspoon of salt, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for 20 minutes, flipping the shrimp halfway through.
Preparing the mushrooms:
- Clean mushrooms by using a damp towel. Do not submerge the mushrooms in water as this will change their texture. Then, cut the mushroom stems and tops. I like the texture of the tops so I keep those untouched.
- Place the clean mushrooms in a bowl, and use two forks to shred the mushrooms until they reach the consistency of “shredded chicken.” Squeeze the 2 large limes on the mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon of salt, then cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for 4 hours or overnight.
Prepare the onions:
- Thinly slice the red onion, then add it to a medium bowl. Cover the onions with the remainder ¼ teaspoon of salt and the 2 teaspoons of white vinegar. Then add just enough water to submerge the onions. Put aside while you make the salsa.
Making the salsa:
- Slice the peppers lengthwise to remove their seeds ( do this if you like a less spicy salsa), I like mine spicy so I keep all the seeds. Then, cut off the tops of the chiles and add them to a blender or food processor. Add the garlic, juice from the 4 limes, cilantro with stems, and salt and pepper to taste to the blender and blend until smooth.
Making the Auguachile:
- For the shrimp version: Drain the onions from their liquid after 5-10 minutes, then add the onions to the salsa. Pour the Aguachile over the shrimp and toss to coat every shrimp. Add sliced cucumber if using, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 4 hours before serving. This dish is best cold!
- To serve, place a small amount of Aguachile on a tostada and top with avocado slices, more cucumber, and cilantro!
- For the king oyster mushroom version: Drain the onions from their liquid after 5-10 minutes, then add the onions to the salsa. Cover salsa with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 4 hours before serving.
- Once ready to serve, pour the Aguachile over the mushrooms and gently use a spoon to cover the mushrooms completely.
- To serve, place on a tostada topped with cucumber slices, avocado slices, an extra squeeze of lime (I like mine very citrusy), and more cilantro for garnish.
Tip: add extra salt if needed, but only after trying it on a tostada first!