Knack South American Cooking: Peruvian Shrimp Chowder

by Liz Caskey on July 26, 2010

Make this delicious ancestral soup part of your healthy recipe repertoire

One of Peru’s most emblematic dishes, this homey chowder is a flavorful main course in any season. Its roots are steeped in the southern city of Arequipa, where fresh shrimp are gathered from the Majes and Ocoña Rivers and crustaceans feed on algae.

The dish goes back to Incan times and is characteristic of the cooking in this part of the country, known for its love of chilies and spices. This rustic soup’s flavor explodes because of its seasoning with chili pastes and a rich shrimp stock, tamed by the creaminess of the potatoes and evaporated milk.

There are numerous variations of the base recipe, ranging from adding pieces of corn cobs and huacatay leaves (a wild Andean mint) to fava beans and tomato paste. However, the base of shrimp, chili, stock, and dairy never changes. Be sure to use meaty shrimp for the best flavor and yellow potatoes if available. The chili pastes can be found at Latin grocers or ordered online. Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds cleaned raw shrimp, shells reserved

6 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon panca chili paste (substitute: tomato paste)

1 teaspoon yellow chili paste

1 cup fresh or frozen, peas

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon oregano

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco, or farmer’s cheese, for garnish

1 tablespoon cilantro, for garnish

Cover shells with water in saucepan. Bring to boil; Simmer 15 minutes. Puree shells with cooking liquid; strain. Reserve 4 cups.

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; stir 2 minutes. Incorporate chili pastes. Reduce heat; stir until onion softens. Add shrimp stock to mixture; simmer. Cook peas, potato chunks, till tender. Add salt.

Stir in milk, oregano, and shrimp over low heat,5 minutes. In a slow stream, add eggs to form ribbons. Garnish with queso fresco and cilantro; serve.

Cooking Tips

Make Shrimp Stock

  • Let liquid thoroughly cool before blending. The steam can cause the top of the blender to explode.
  • Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl; solids can be discarded.
  • Measure enough stock for 4 cups. If needed, add water to reach 4 cups.
  • Panca chili paste gives richness to stock. If unavailable, substitute tomato paste and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Add Milk and Eggs

  • Once you add the evaporated milk, keep the heat on low to avoid scalding.
  • Add eggs in a steady stream. Do not break them directly into the pot.
  • To make shreds, rapidly stir the egg clockwise for 1 minute. To form ribbons, gently stir clockwise for 1 minute.
  • Turn off the heat once the eggs have been added to avoid overcooking or curdling.

Zoom

Evaporated milk is made by putting milk under a vacuum and removing half its water content. It is then sterilized, homogenized, and sealed in cans. Evaporated milk is used primarily in cooking to impart creaminess and richness. Often used in areas where refrigeration and fresh milk are unavailable, its shelf life can extend up to a couple years. Once opened, it has the same duration as fresh milk.

Variation

Crab and Yucca Soup: Poach 4 whole crabs in 1 gallon salted water with 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped leek, and 1 chopped celery stalk for 15 minutes. Strain; reserve crab stock. Clean crabs; save claws and meat. Cook 1 pound yucca in salted water; drain and reserve. In a pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté 1 chopped onion, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, and 1 teaspoon yellow chili paste; add 4 cups crab stock. When simmering, add crabmeat, 1 tablespoon huacatay (or basil) leaves, 1/2 cup evaporated milk, and yucca; cook on low for 5 minutes. Serve with 1 tablespoon minced chives for garnish.

{ 7 comments }

Matt July 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

The amount of times I see recipes on websites and think that I will make one day. Well this I am gonna make tonight. Looks fantastic. Will update on my attempt tomorrow

Liz Caskey July 26, 2010 at 9:36 pm

this soup is so amazingly flavorful. do you have all the chili sauces? they really make the difference…they sell them in La Vega here in Santiago or any major supermarket. enjoy.

Christine July 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I’ve got all the ingredients except for the chili pastes. Gotta find them as I want to make this soup this week. Beautiful photo!

Liz Caskey July 27, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Try a latin grocer or well-stocked super market near you. You can sub the panca paste with tomato paste in a pinch but honestly, not quite the same. The yellow chili paste however is a must. good luck!

hungrysofia July 28, 2010 at 1:52 am

This looks incredible!

Mart S - Grotto Wine Racks July 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm

It’s very inviting. Nice set of pictures! Cheers!

Todd August 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Working on a new soup similar to this for our restaurants. I work with several Peruvians (who all have different opinions about the ingredients). But they all agree the “yellow chile paste” is Aji Amarillo. Any “Aji” should work. Easy for me to get jars in San Francisco. They are available dry or as paste on the interwebs.

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