Cooking With a Latin Accent

Each month we celebrate Fernie’s amazing food scene by challenging a local pro to create a five-ingredient recipe with delicious–and revealing–results.

Amie Bradsell’s Camarones Al Tequila

  • Shrimp
  • Lime
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Tequila

A menu brimming with healthy offerings–many vegetarian and/or gluten-free–wasn’t the original objective for co-owners Storm and Kurt Saari when they opened Latin American-inspired Nevados in 2014. But, Storm pointed out, South and Central America yield fruits and vegetables year round so wheat-free, produce-centric dishes naturally followed. And then there’s the cuisine’s simplicity. As Head Chef Amie Bradsell explained, “I find the ingredients are so humble but [the way ingredients are combined] is just incredible.” And, she noted, simplicity also means “there’s nowhere to hide” sub-par ingredients.

Take her Camarones al Tequila, a flambéed shrimp tapas. “We only use 100% agave tequila. That’s really important,” said Amie. Technically, tequila only needs to be 51% blue agave. The rest can be neutral spirit, colourants and flavourings. Unsurprisingly, blends can be considered lower quality. As a French classically trained chef, Amie may agree with Julia Child, who wrote in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that when cooking with wine (or any alcohol), if it isn’t the best, forget it because “a poor one can spoil a simple dish and utterly debase a noble one.” But I got the impression that Amie simply loves letting a few really good ingredients sing. For our recipe, she used Cazadores Blanco tequila.

First, Amie added a bit of oil to a pan over medium heat. [Attentive readers noting a sixth ingredient: Let this wee infraction slide for the sake of impending deliciousness]. Then she added some chopped garlic. “Toasting the garlic is really important,” she said. “You want that slightly smoky, kind of caramelized flavour.” Cook 30 seconds to a minute. “Once you see the garlic start to colour, that’s when you add your shrimp.” She used large shrimp specially imported from Argentina but you could use tiger shrimp, lobster tails or scallops instead.

Cook the shrimp about 30 seconds per side. Now the pan’s had a chance to heat up again. “You want the pan hot so when you add the tequila you get that fire!” Sure enough, she poured the tequila (just an ounce, more might overtake the delicate flavour of the shrimp) into the pan, shook the contents and, with a loud whoosh, flames shot up past her head. Important: Stand back when you do this!

“[The flame] burns out pretty quick,” she reassured me, explaining that the alcohol dissipates and the juices of the shrimp reduce, creating “this really delicious sauce.” Next, she added a sprinkle of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime to cut through the sweetness of the shrimp and garlic, balancing everything out. Then she basted each shrimp using a spoon to “get a nice even coating,” adding “You don’t really want to cook [the shrimp] longer than three minutes.”

As she deftly plated the shrimp, I asked her the secret to great presentation. “Height!” she said, laughing, as she balanced a slice of lime on one of the shrimp. “I’m always saying ‘Get it higher!’” Contrasting colours are important, too. “We use pickled cabbage and pickled onions–bright pinks and bright reds–next to the green of the lime. It just pops!” Gets mouths watering, too!