Contrary to what I grew up thinking in Houston and then the Hill Country, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. Did you know that? All those years as an adult, I justified my tacos and margaritas in honor of Mexico’s Independence, and it wasn’t even the right reason.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the triumph of the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla against the French army. The French were considered the world’s most powerful army at the time. Mexico defaulted on loans to European countries, and France came to Mexico to collect. That was on May 5, 1862, which happened about 50 years after Mexico’s Independence Day that falls on September 16.
Nowadays, Mexico doesn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo outside of Puebla, Mexico on the scale it is celebrated in the United States. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume there’s no celebration on May 5th in France. The first celebrations date back to the 1860s when Mexicans in California celebrated the victory – and about a century later, it was revived in the U.S.
About 30 years ago, Cinco de Mayo was promoted by Mexican breweries, alcohol distillers and restaurant industries as a way to sell more tequila and beer. I would say that they were successful. Don’t you think of margaritas when you think of Cinco de Mayo? I know I do.
This year, Cinco de Mayo falls on a Sunday, so margaritas and tacos are perfectly acceptable fare for celebrating the Mexican Army’s success at the Battle of Puebla.
Some people eat Tacos on Tuesdays, but I eat tacos any day that I can. Just this past week, we had Steak Fajita Taco Sunday, Leftover Steak Taco Monday, and Shrimp Taco Wednesday, while anticipating a repeat of Shrimp Taco Cinco de Mayo Sunday. I’ve been buying the frozen Wild Caught Gulf Shrimp at Porter’s lately, since we haven’t been “off the island” in a while, and they’ve been consistently great.
I’ve made shrimp tacos a number of ways over the years. Baja-style, battered and fried shrimp topped with shredded cabbage and a creamy white sauce. I’ve made many a fish taco this way, the recipe originating in Baja, California and similar to what is found on the Mexican peninsula. Baja style can also be referred to as Ensenada style.
I started playing around with the shrimp marinade and sometimes marinated it only in red chile and garlic sauce (usually next to the Sriracha sauce as the grocery store), lime juice and some chile powder, and topping the taco with guacamole, sour cream and cilantro, or pico de gallo.
Lately, gone a little rogue in my shrimp tacos-style. I’ve been tossing the cleaned shrimp with chile powder, lime juice and the fantastic Thai-style Candied Ginger Chile seasoning from Porter’s. In avocado oil, I sauté sliced onion, fresh sliced garlic and jalapeno to just-tender, and then throw the shrimp in to cook. If we’re not in the mood for spicy, I’ll use the little sweet peppers that come in red, yellow and orange in a package.
The result? One pan of yumminess, and one pan to clean up. Spoon it onto a corn tortilla, eat with a side of chips and homemade guacamole, and savor the flavors. Easy prep, easy cleanup. Now, that’s my style.
Not-Quite-Baja Shrimp Tacos
Marinade and dressing:
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Lime Cream Sauce:
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Cover and store unused portion for up to three days.
1 pound cleaned shrimp (I like to use Jumbo and slice them in half lengthwise, but I’ve used small and they work well, too)
4 cups finely shredded green or red cabbage
Corn tortillas (enough for 2 per taco if store-bought)
1 cup guacamole
In a small bowl, whisk together cilantro, lime juice, oil, honey, chili powder, salt, cumin and pepper.
Heat broiler to high. In medium-size bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the marinade and the shrimp. In second medium-size bowl, combine remaining marinade and cabbage (this is where I add diced mango to the slaw if I have it). Let both marinate for 10 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a broiler pan. Broil, 2 to 3 inches from heat, for 6 to 7 minutes, turning once.
Spread a tortilla with about 2 tablespoons guacamole – this holds your shrimp in place nicely. Top with 4 or 5 shrimp, slaw and drizzle with lime cream sauce. Sprinkle with salsa. Eat as many as you can.