Shrimp and Plantain Torte
The torte is made with the basic cooking sauce, “sofrito,” that is the essential ingredient in many Spanish recipes and was brought to North America centuries ago by the Spanish settlers. The important sauce base is the oil made from the seed of the annatto (known in Spanish-speaking countries as achiote), a red flowering tree. Because the seed makes an excellent dye, the American Indians mixed it with oil and used it to paint their bodies. Its purpose was only ornamental, causing some historians to speculate that it was the Indians’ use of this dye that earned them the name “redskins.” As a culinary resource, the annatto seed, like saffron, lends a strong color and delicate flavor to food.
- Annatto Oil
- Vegetable Oil - 1⁄2 cup
- Annatto (achiote seeds) - 1⁄4 cup
- Salt pork - 2 ounces, finely diced
- Annatto Oil - 1 teaspoon
- Onions - 11⁄2 cups finely chopped
- Garlic - 1 tablespoon, minced
- Green Bell Peppers - 2 medium, seeded, deribbed, and coarsely chopped
- Lean Boneless Ham - 4 ounces, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- Tomatoes - 2 large, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped (or substitute 11⁄2 cups drained, chopped, canned tomatoes)
- Cilantro - 1-1⁄2 teaspoons, finely chopped
- Dried Oregano - 1⁄2 teaspoon, crumbled
- Salt - 1 teaspoon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Butter - 9 tablespoons
- Onion - 1, peeled and diced
- Garlic Clove - 1, peeled and minced
- Tomatoes - 2, diced
- Shrimp - 2 pounds, peeled, deveined, and roughly chopped
- Shrimp Stock - 2 cups (see Basics)
- White Wine - 1-1⁄2 cups
- Sofrito - 1⁄2 cup (above)
- Fresh basil - 1 bunch, cut into chiffonade
- Sweet Plantains - 2
- Butter - 3 tablespoons
- Egg - 1, beaten until frothy
- Manchego Cheese - 1⁄4 cup, grated (see Note)
- Butter - 1 cup (2 sticks)
- Shallots - 4, peeled and minced
- Spanish Sherry - 2 cups
- Sherry Vinegar - 1⁄4 cup
- Vanilla bean - 1, split and scraped
- Pinch of saffron
- Heavy Cream - 1⁄4 cup
To make the annatto oil: In a small saucepan heat the oil over medium-high heat until a light haze forms on the surface. Stir in the annatto seeds and when they are evenly coated with oil, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, uncover, and let the oil cool to room temperature. Strain the annatto oil into a jar and discard the seeds. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Although the annatto oil will keep for several months, its flavor and color will diminish as it ages.
To make the sofrito: In a large heavy skillet fry the salt pork over medium heat, stirring with a spoon until crisp and brown. With a slotted spoon remove and discard the salt pork. Add the annatto oil to the fat remaining in the skillet. Add the onions, garlic, and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender but not yet brown. Add the diced ham and stir until all the pieces are coated with the oil. Then stir in the chopped tomatoes, coriander, oregano, salt, and a few grindings of black pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the vegetables from sticking. Ladle the sofrito into a large clean jar or bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. It may be kept for 1 to 2 weeks.
To cook the shrimp: In a large saute pan melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook briefly until the onions are just tender. Add the tomato and stir thoroughly. Add the shrimp and cook about 1 minute, stirring, until the shrimp are almost cooked. Transfer the shrimp mixture to a platter, raise the heat to high, and pour in the shrimp stock, white wine, and sofrito. Bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to boil vigorously until the mixture is reduced by half. Reduce the heat until the mixture is just at a simmer. Using a wire whisk, beat in the butter quickly, one piece at a time. Be careful not to continue to reduce the mixture as the butter is beaten in. Return the shrimp to the saute pan and finish cooking the shrimp, about 1 minute or just until the shrimp turn bright pink. Add the basil and check the seasonings.
To cook the plantains and assemble the torte: Peel the plantains and cut each lengthwise into 1⁄4-inch thick strips. In a heavy-bottomed skillet melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the foam begins to subside, add the plantains. Cook them about 1 minute per side or until golden brown, turning the strips with a slotted spatula. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place six 4-inch metal ring molds on a baking sheet, and fit 2 plantain strips inside each mold. Fill with the shrimp mixture, brush with 1 tablespoon of the egg wash, and sprinkle with the Manchego cheese. Bake the tortes in the preheated oven 20 minutes or until warmed through and the cheese has browned.
To make the sauce: In a small saucepan melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and saute until translucent. Raise the heat to high, pour in the sherry, sherry vinegar, vanilla bean, and saffron and reduce by half. Add the heavy cream and reduce by half again. Reduce the heat to very low and beat in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until well incorporated. Do not let the sauce begin to bubble; remove from the heat if necessary. Serve immediately.
Remove the tortes from the oven. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the sauce on each of the serving plates and place the ring mold in the center. Carefully remove the ring and serve immediately.
*Note: Manchego, Spain’s most famous cheese, was named because it was originally made from the milk of Manchego sheep from the plains of La Mancha. This unctuous, semi-firm cheese has a mellow flavor. The two most popularly exported are curado and viejo. The latter is aged longer.