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50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #47 Zarela Martinez - Camarones al Ajillo {Garlicky Stir-Fried Shrimp}

31 comments /
the "Gourmet" prompt...
47. Zarela Martinez- The Manhattan restaurateur has done much to popularize, and demystify, regional Mexican cooking.

Though both of Zarela's parents were born in the US (Texas and Arizona), Zarela was born in Agua Prieta in the state of Sonora in Mexico.  The family lived in the US, but owned a cattle ranch "of considerable acreage" in Mexico and her father wanted it to be kept in the family, therefore one of their  daughters was to be born there.  Zarela's was the lucky one.  They spent a fair amount of time on that ranch when she was growing up.  Food was a huge part of their life and culture - four course meals every evening with candles and flowers on the table and wine for the adults.  She learned to cook from her mother not because she was expected to, but because she wanted to!  Martinez expects to be publishing a Mexican cookbook written by her mother soon, as well.

Zarela began cooking professionally during the late 70's in El Paso, but with the support and encouragement of Craig Claiborn and Paul Prodhomme, she moved to New York in '83.  She was lauded as "the city's first serious"  attempt to recreate Mexican cuisine using local resources for her work as menu-designer and executive chef at Cafe Marimba.  In '87 she opened her own "self-titled" restaurant, Zarela.  After 23 years, she closed it in 2011 (much to the chagrin of many loyal customers).

She continues in her commitment to bring regional Mexican food to New York in her launch of a program for the Mexican Cultural Institute (of which she's recently been named to the board) entitled Food in Arte.  This promotes Mexican culture through its food and traditions from the different states throughout Mexico.  She's made it her mission to make her culture known and understood.

Aside from cooking and writing, Zarela also has a catering business and gives cooking lessons, lectures, and demonstrations.  She's also worked as a marketing consultant for brands such as Unilever Best Foods, Nestlè©, Marriott and Taco Bell.   She's been a guest on Julia Child's Cooking with Master Chefs, Martha Stewart, and NPR's Lenny Lopate Show.  She is also active in organizations such as the Hispanic Children's Fund, CityMeals on Wheels, Latino Nutrition Coalition, the MexEd Foundation, and Mano a Mano.

Zarela says "from my childhood on, cooking meant sharing and security and a way of speaking to the people".
further info on Zarela: website | facebook | twitter | youtubeflickr

Since my library didn't carry any of her books, I turned to Amazon.  I knew I'd enjoy anything she wrote (since Mexican is my favorite cuisine), so I figured that investing in at least one to start with was a good idea.  And boy was it.  I ordered Zarela's Veracruz.  The hardest part?  Choosing just one recipe to feature today.  I was torn between Tostadas de Jaiba (Tostadas w/ Hashed Crab), Camarones con Chile Chipotle (Shrimp with Chipotle Chiles), Camarones a la Pimienta ( Peppered Shrimp), and the recipe I actually chose.  It was a crap-shoot, really.  Apparently I was craving seafood.  But the garlic-lovin' gene in me won out this time.  And how happy am I that it did!?  This is such a simple preparation.  You may not be able to tell how special it is with just a glance.  But it's gloriously garlicky with this pleasant heat that makes your nose start to run.  Piling it all on some crusty bread (and using the bread to sop up the juices) is a memorable experience. So. Stinkin'. Tasty.

Camarones al Ajillo (Garlicky Stir-Fried Shrimp) + Ajo Preparado (Garlic Butter Enrichment)

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Keywords: stir-fry appetizer entree chiles garlic shrimp Mexican

Ingredients (serves 2-4)
    Camarones al Ajillo
    • 1 large head garlic, cloves separated & peeled
    • juice of 2 limes
    • ~1 tsp. coarse salt
    • freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 lb. shrimp (any size), peeled & deveined
    • 3 Tbs. olive oil, separated
    • 3 Tbs. vegetable oil, separated
    • 20 dried chiles de arbol
    • 1 Tbs. Ajo Preparado (recipe follows)
    • lime wedges, to garnish
    Ajo Preparado
    • ½ c. garlic cloves
    • ½ c. cold water
    • 2 Tbs. butter
    Instructions
    Camarones al Ajillo
    Crush 2 of the garlic cloves to a paste with the salt in a medium bowl using a heavy pestle (or something similar). Stir in the lime juice and a good grinding of black pepper. Add the shrimp and toss well to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

    Bruise the remaining cloves of garlic by laying the flat of a kjnife against them and giving it a swift hit. The garlic cloves should stay mainly intact. Add 1 tablespoon of each of the oils to a medium skillet over medium. Add the bruised garlic and cook for ~2 minutes, or until it just turns golden. Add the chiles and cook, stirring constantly for another minute, taking care not to burn the chiles. Quickly scoop the garlic and chiles into a small bowl and set aside.

    Heat remaining oil in the same skillet over medium-high. Stir in the ajo preparado. Add the reserved shrimp and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes, or until they just turn pink. Add the reserved garlic-chile mixture and let cook for just 1 minute longer, until everything is heated through.

    Serve with lime wedges for squeezing and a good loaf of crusty bread.

    Ajo Preparado (yield: ~¾ c.)
    Puree the garlic with the water in a blender.

    Gently melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan without letting it bubble. Pour in the garlic puree and cook without stirring for ~5 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the mixture is "bubbling up in ploppy craters".

    Let mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer to a small, airtight container. Will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.

    notes:
    Use this as a sauce enrichment in seafood dishes and stews or anything else you'd like to add an extra burst of garlicky flavor to. Try starting with ~1 Tbs. for a dish that serves 4.

    slightly adapted from Zarela's Veracruz
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    p.s... one of Zarela's sons has followed in her footsteps. Can you name this famous chef? Think tattoos, Chopped, Heat Seekers. Oh yeah, that's him. None other than Aarón Sanchez!  To read a bit about Aarón's food memories with his mom and see a little video of the two in the kitchen together, check out this interview on Marcus Samuelsson's blog.
    sources and further reading: Zarela, Memorable Dishes from a Master Mexican Chef by Craig Claiborne (from The New York Times), My Mom's Sopa Seca: Aarón Sanchez's Food Memories with his Mom (also the source for the photo of Zarela & Aarón)

    In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 women...one per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
    Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?

    I am sharing this post with:
    foodfriday friday food at mom trends foodiebutton2 Foodiefridaymark-1

    31 comments

    1. What a lovely dish, Heather. This really sounds delicious. We love shrimp and I'll soon find a spot for this on my table. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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    2. I'm from El Paso too!! Woohoo!! Although I've never heard of her but you just got me excited for her new cookbook. I'm going to Amazon right now to buy any other one she has out. That Spicy Shrimp is right up my alley, I just posted a story on my version, but please don't compare - it doesn't come anywhere near hers!! Thanks for sharing and thoroughly enjoyed her bio. -Bev

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    3. I read about the garlic sauce in a recipe I was going to try for a fish hash. It turned out not to be one of Zarela's recipes but I am still intrigued.

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    4. I love how fresh this is. I'll be making this over the weekend! Grand write-up - you found much more fascinating tidbits than I did. Kudos to you!

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    5. I love this preparation of prawns..

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    6. Jill (http://saucycooks.comMay 11, 2012 at 11:42 AM

      Yum, yum!! My kind of dish: simple and amped up with heat and garlic. Oh and thanks for the link to the interview Heather; I just love Aaron!

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    7. Karen (Back Road Journal)May 11, 2012 at 11:53 AM

      The recipe sounds great with the chilies and garlic. Thank you for the interesting background...I had no idea that Aaron Sanchez was Zarela's son.

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    8. Wow, how can something that looks this good be so quick and easy to make? This sounds awesome!

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    9. This recipe is similar to the Spanish gambas al ajillo, but the preparation is a little different. I know it tastes great because gambas (camarones) al ajillo is one of my favorite appetizers!
      I haven't seen her son on TV. I'll have to look out for him.

      Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits

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    10. Alyssa (Everyday Maven)May 11, 2012 at 2:10 PM

      You know what I like about you Heather? We have such similar taste in food I can always count on something delicious and fabulous sounding to show up in my blog reader! Thanks :)

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    11. Can't ever have too much shrimp! Lovely post. Enjoy the weekend:)

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    12. So cool! I love a good spicy, light dish like this in the summer.

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    13. Lovely preparation.. Would like to taste some..

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    14. Beautiful seafood dish, Heather. We love shrimp! You did a super job with Zarela's story and what a cute photo of she and her son.

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    15. I love camarones and these sounds fantastic Heather:))

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    16. I love your histories of the recipes and restaurant. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.

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    17. My kids love this garlicky shrimp dish when we go to our favorite Spanish restaurant. I didn't know about Ajo Preparado, but I'm sure it adds a nice richness to this dish. Love the photo of Aaron and Zarela, very sweet.

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    18. Gerry @ Foodness GraciousMay 12, 2012 at 12:44 AM

      I can almost smell this dish, I want it now or at least this weekend, why can't it be fathers day,,aggghhh.

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    19. Yum! We grew up eating gambas al ajillo as a frequent midweek dish. I love your version - beautiful!

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    20. These look incredible! The described mix of spices is mouth-watering!

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    21. Linda--There and Back AgainMay 12, 2012 at 11:40 AM

      What an easy recipe! My husband is not a big fan of garlic, so I may have to try this when he's out of the house, though I'm sure the garlic smell lasts for quite some time. :) Or I could make it without the ajo preparado to tone it down a bit. Looks wonderful!

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    22. What a pleasant and delicious recipe!
      Happy Mother's Day, Heather!

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    23. I had no idea my suegra was such a game changer in food. I must get one of her cookbooks to learn more about her. I can almost taste the shrimp swimming in all that garlic. Mmmmm! :P

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    24. Hi Bev! I'd love to check out your version...but there is no link attached to your name, so I can't click through and I don't know where to find you! If you want to leave me a link, I'd love to stop by your place =)

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    25. Thank you! I've wanted to stop by and return your comments (thank you so much!) but your comment doesn't lead to a blog or twitter or anything where I can find you. If you'd like to add one, I'd love to stop by! =)

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    26. That's what I like about you, too Alyssa ;P

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    27. I love that quote of hers! So poignant and oh so true. The garlic lover in me is loving your choice as well!

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    28. She really has a wealth of recipes to share. I was blown away by the info and photos and stories about Mexico on her website. These shrimp with their garlicky wallop would be so great as a starter for a big old Mexican feast! Great post! I may be late coming to your post (and posting my own Zarela dish! ) but I'm sure glad I did !

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    29. I love Zarela and my daughter loves Aaron!! This is one of my favorite lenten meals, yum!

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    30. the shrimp looks delish :-) I love eating shrimp too :-) Dropping by from Food Friday


      http://www.adventurousjessy.com/2012/05/celebrating-our-tenth-year-wedding-anniversar.html

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    31. oh wow...i love shrimps though i seldom cook them since hubby is allergic...but he loves them too so we still serve it on our table when the craving hits us (he just needs to get ready with his anti-allergy pill). :D


      appreciate much your sharing over at Food Friday, Heather

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