Mariscos Chente – Del Rey, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

I know what you’re probably thinking. Where the heck is Del Rey? That’s okay. We didn’t know either until we moved here. And it took over a year of living in this teeny tiny region bordered by Culver City, Mar Vista, Marina Del Rey, and Venice to finally discover the wonder that is Mariscos Chente. At this hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant specializing in mariscos (seafood), the small menu boasts two pages of shrimp dishes, a third of fish dishes, and a final page dedicated to ceviche.

Camarones Borrachos - shrimp in a tequila garlic sauce

Camarones Borrachos – shrimp in a tequila garlic sauce

We’ve returned on multiple occasions since our first fateful visit less than a month ago. It’s that good. The camarones borrachos (above) were like a “drunken shrimp” dish packed with a strong tequila punch. A bit too strong for me, but Martin enjoyed it.

But first, the chips and salsa... and our drinks

But first, the chips and salsa… and our drinks

Shortly after we place our order, the friendly waitress brings out a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips and a small bowl of salsa verde. Tangy from plenty of limes and tomatillos, with just the right amount of kick, this snack is the perfect way to whet our appetite for the delicious meal to come, especially when paired with Mexican Coke and tamarindo Jarritos.

Camarones a la Diabla - shrimp in a spicy red sauce

Camarones a la Diabla – shrimp in a spicy red sauce

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I LOVE spicy food. Absolutely love it. If I’m not sucking in air and making that hissing sound by the end of my meal, it was not done right. Of course, I had to try the camarones a la diabla, so spicy that it even bears the devil’s name. Full of garlicky, salty, spicy flavor, this dish definitely wowed me.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo - shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Swimming in a sauce that’s bright red from all the tomalley hidden in the succulent shrimp heads, these camarones al mojo de ajo are excellent in their simplicity. I think this dish is the best way to really taste the shrimp… and butter. Martin and I both love it, so when we’re struggling to venture out and try something different on the menu, we’ll usually order one of these and one of something else to share.

Suck the goodness out of those shrimp heads!

Suck the goodness out of those shrimp heads!

The best part is that the shrimp are served head-on. Each order comes with 12-15 shrimp (about a pound I’d wager), which means 12-15 delicious shrimp heads from which to harvest tasty, tasty brains. The good stuff that tinges the sauce a brilliant crimson. My favorite part is the “thigh” of the legs. Sweet shrimp meat covered in a thin crispy layer of (edible) shell, it’s totally worth the crunch.

The Graveyard

The Graveyard

Let the heads pile up as you devour the entire platter. For $15, the portion is generous, especially for lunch. Sometimes I even push a shrimp or two onto Martin’s plate to help me finish.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo - shrimp in butter and garlic salt

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – shrimp in butter and garlic salt

As you can see in the background, each plate comes with a mound of rice. The garlicky rice is deceptively, impressively flavorful and the texture is fluffy but chewy. So good! From the shrimp to the shrimp to the shrimp to the rice, Mariscos Chente is definitely worth a visit. If you remember to call ahead, you could even order an awesome fried fish by the kilo (the pescado sarandeado) which takes at least 30 minutes to prepare. We honestly lack the foresight, but someday we’ll definitely try it and update this post. And if you go here for dinner, there are plenty of cerveza offerings on the menu to pair with the camarones¡Salud!

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Check out Mariscos Chente:

4532 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Gỏi cuốn, often translated as spring rolls, summer rolls, or salad rolls, are handheld rice paper wraps filled with vegetables, herbs, and goodies. Martin particularly enjoys nem nuong cuon a la Brodard (we get at least a dozen every time we visit the OC) but I don’t discriminate – I love ALL goi cuon with just about any filling. Prepackaged or DIY, spring rolls are the perfect summer food since they are light, refreshing, and easily customizable. We recently came into some fresh cucumbers and perilla leaves from a friend’s garden, so a fresh batch of goi cuon for dinner is in order.

Goi cuon (spring rolls)

Goi cuon (spring rolls)

I’ll be honest, my rolls at home are often very simple with minimal filling — for no reason other than I’m too lazy to purchase a variety of vegetables and be held responsible for using them before they go bad. Traditional goi cuon are often filled with boiled shrimp, pork slices, lettuce, vermicelli rice noodles (bún), and mint. Optional add-ins include julienned cucumber, grated carrots, and bean sprouts. As we mentioned earlier, some places roll up strips of grilled pork patties called nem nuong and Brodard in particular substitutes crispy fried wonton & scallion rolls for the vermicelli. The sauces vary as well, from fish sauce based to peanut butter & hoisin.

The Fixings

The Fixings

NomNomCat Tips for Ingredients:

1. Rice Paper (Bánh Tráng): Not all packages of rice paper are created equal! Depending on the brand you purchase, the paper may be too thin, too thick, or just right. Some are slightly salted and some are completely bland. Some even have slivers of bamboo from the drying racks (they’re not dangerous; just pick them out if you see them). I’ve noticed rice paper at regular ol’ neighborhood supermarkets (Ralphs, VONS, etc.) in the “International” section, but of course you could find more brands and size options at an Asian grocery store. My favorite is the one with the rose (bông hồng) on the center and the double parrot (hai con két) symbol on the left. Regardless of the brand, be sure to get the kind that’s sold in round clear plastic packages to avoid the disappointment of broken sheets of rice paper common to the bagged kind.

Mint

Mint

2. Mint (Rau): These are optional but highly recommended. There are so many different kinds of mint, but my favorite for spring rolls are spearmint (rau húng lủi), spicy Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), Thai basil (rau quế), and perilla (tía tô). Shiso leaves, which were gifted to us, are a variety of perilla that is all green, but the Vietnamese tía tô is usually purple on one side and green on the other. Luckily, they share a similar fragrance, so for the purposes of this spring roll, they are interchangeable. If you’re having friends over to roll their own spring rolls, it would be nice to put out a smorgasbord of mint for sampling and experimenting. Questions? Check out this awesome guide (that is, until we have time to create our own)!

Ingredients:

Protein:

– Shrimp, deveined, peeled, and cleaned, about 2-3 per roll

– Pork, boiled and sliced

1 10.5 ounce package vermicelli rice noodles

Assortment of veggies:

– Lettuce (1 head of romaine or green lettuce)

– Carrots, grated

– Bean sprouts, cleaned with the roots picked off

– Cucumbers, julienned (you can leave the skins on)

Assortment of mint (spearmint, Vietnamese coriander, Thai basil, perilla, etc.)

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

Optional: sambal oelek (chili paste)

Rice paper

Hot (but not boiling) water

Boil the shrimp in salted water until the flesh just turns opaque, about 1-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the shrimp and shock them in a bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside.

Shocking the Shrimp

Shocking the Shrimp

I was at Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocery store, and found these delectable slices of chashu pork. Instead of a steaming bowl of ramen, however, these slices were fated for something much more healthy. If you are using your own pork, simply boil in water until cooked through, let cool, and cut into thin slices.

Prepared Chashu Pork Slices

Prepared Chashu Pork Slices

Cook the vermicelli according to package instructions. For thin noodles, about 2-3 minutes in boiling water should suffice. Strain and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

A package of our favorite brand of vermicelli from Lan Vang

A package of our favorite brand of vermicelli – Lan Vang

Prepare the vegetables and arrange on a nice platter, if serving DIY style. If you plan to roll them all at once, just set up your mise en place.

Veggies for rolling

Veggies for rolling

Rinse the mint thoroughly in cool water. I like to fill a plastic bowl with water, gently push the leaves down a few times, rinse, and repeat about 3 times total. Shake onto sheets of paper towel to dry.

Drying the Mints

Drying the Mints

Next, prepare the sauce. Believe it or not, I had frequent requests from family to prepare this sauce when I was kid – in retrospect, it must have been my first signature dish.

Sauce Ingredients

Sauce Ingredients

In a small saucepan on medium-low, heat the hoisin sauce, peanut butter, and about 2-3 tablespoons of water. Stir constantly so the peanut butter does not burn.

Yum, peanut butter

Yum, peanut butter

Cook for about 2-3 minutes or until the sauce has warmed up enough to whisk together well and the consistency is to your liking. Add more water for a thinner sauce; I ended up needing about 5 tablespoons. Too sweet? Add another tablespoon of hoisin sauce. Remove from heat.

The Sauce

The Sauce

All set? Now it’s time to ROLL!

Fill a large bowl with hot water. Our tap heats up to near-boiling, but you’ll want a warm (but SAFE) temperature since you may be submerging your hands. Dip a sheet of rice paper in the warm water and rotate to moisten evenly. Lay onto a dinner plate and let sit for 30 seconds. The water will soften the paper into a malleable wrapper.

Arrange the vegetables, leafy ones first, along the bottom of the circle, approximately 1-2 inches from the edge. Leave room on the sides to tuck in the ends.

Step 1: leafy greens first

Step 1: leafy greens first

Top the leafy greens with vermicelli and the other vegetables.

Step 2: vermicelli and other vegetables

Step 2: vermicelli and other vegetables

Fold over the left and right sides so that they overlap the filling.

Step 3: fold the sides over

Step 3: fold the sides over

Fold up from the bottom and roll over once.

Step 4: roll up from the bottom

Step 4: roll up from the bottom

Arrange the shrimp on the rice paper.

Step 5: arrange the shrimp

Step 5: arrange the shrimp

Continue rolling. Voila~!

Finished spring roll

Finished spring roll

If desired, cut in half on a bias before serving with the dipping sauce. Also, you are welcome to arrange all of the fillings in the very middle before rolling, like so:

Rolling technique #2

Rolling technique #2

The first method makes for a prettier presentation since the bright pink shrimp are easier seen through just one layer of rice paper rather than multiple.

But they most certainly taste equally delicious!

But they most certainly taste equally delicious!

Serving wise, I would plan on 2-3 rolls per person for lunch and 3-4 rolls per person for dinner. The ratio I provided for the sauce yielded enough to accompany about a dozen rolls.

The Perfect Summer Dish

The Perfect Summer Dish

Spring rolls make for a great picnic item to take along on an outing to a park or beach to enjoy the summer sun. Just wrap them in plastic wrap to keep the rice paper from drying out. Easy peasy!

Thanks again to our friend A for the fresh produce. Nothing like crispy, fresh homegrown cucumbers to really make a spring roll taste extra special. Cheers!

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Sriracha Shrimp Skewers

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

We love having friends over for food and drinks and merriment, so a summer barbecue for Independence Day was inevitable. As we planned out our spread, we knew we wanted to serve up our copycat Father’s Office burgers, zesty tequila-lime chicken (recipe to come), and shrimp. Hm. Shrimp. Our brains were riddled with question marks as to the marinade and the idea of “Oh, butter, lemon, and herbs will be fine… it’s a classic combination!” relentlessly gripped my train of thought. But with our other two fancified proteins on the menu, we wanted the shrimp to stand out too. Cue, sriracha.

Sriracha Shrimp

Sriracha Marinated Shrimp

Sriracha. An Asian bottled hot sauce made popular here in the States by David Tran of Huy Fong Foods, sriracha has been a critical household ingredient in my family since before I was born. My parents always had a bottle sitting in the refrigerator, always the Huy Fong one with the rooster and the iconic green cap. Known in Vietnamese as tương ớt (or “pepper sauce”), I only ate sriracha with pho and occasionally to spice up other Asian dishes like fried rice or non-pho noodle soups. It wasn’t until I moved to LA for college that I even saw a bottle of sriracha anywhere other than an Asian restaurant. In fact, it was EVERYWHERE – the dining halls, the Mexican taco trucks, the “international” section of Ralphs. All of my friends, regardless of their ethnicity, slathered sriracha over everything. Have you ever tried sriracha in lieu of ketchup for dipping French fries? IT ROCKS.

The iconic plastic bottle with the rooster and green cap (accept no substitutes!)

The iconic plastic bottle with the rooster and green cap (accept no substitutes!)

Huy Fong Foods sells out of every batch they produce and recently expanded their facilities from Rosemead (near where Martin grew up and would smell the scent of brewing peppers wafting through the neighboring streets) to a 23-acre factory in Irwindale… it warms my heart to see the success of a company with such humble beginnings (the family immigrated during the Vietnam War, just as my parents had). There’s even a sriracha documentary coming out soon; I’m expecting a Jiro Dreams of Sushi of the hot sauce world.

These little morsels quickly disappeared...

These little morsels quickly disappeared…

But back to the barbecue. Fortunately, our friends at Foodbeast resurrected this awesome recipe from Helen at Food52, and we found it on our Facebook news feed not a moment too soon. It was a huge hit at the party and definitely a keeper for future cookouts.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup sriracha (we added 1 tablespoon extra for more kick)

1/3 cup olive oil (we reduced by 1 tablespoon)

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

4-5 crushed cloves of garlic (we added a few more cloves)

1 teaspoon sugar

Small bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Salt & pepper

2 pounds large shrimp (21-25 or larger), cleaned, peeled, & deveined

(adapted from Food52)

The Marinade - At the Beginning

The Marinade – At the Beginning

In small bowl (or measuring cup – I like to minimize dirty dishes), whisk together the first six ingredients, making sure to bruise the garlic pieces as you mix. Let the marinade mixture sit while you work on the shrimp.

The Shrimp

The Shrimp

Clean the veins from the shrimp and peel them under cold water. Tails on or off – that’s up to you. I preferred them tail-off for ease of devouring these morsels whole.

Seasoned Shrimp

Seasoned Shrimp

Transfer the shrimp to a medium glass bowl. Season generously with kosher salt (or garlic salt) and fresh cracked black pepper.

Look at the stunning marinade!

Look at the stunning marinade!

Pour the marinade over (scrape every last drop!) and mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The marinade (i.e. the flavor) clings well to the shrimp when it comes time to grilling, so it’s OK if you don’t quite have 2 hours to spare.

You could almost hear the shrimp soaking in all that flavor!

You could almost hear the shrimp soaking in all that flavor!

About an hour before grill time, soak some bamboo skewers in water; this keeps them from burning to a crisp over the hot coals. I set out a baking sheet on a counter I wasn’t using, spread out the skewers in a single layer, and then poured cold water over them.

Skewering Time!

Skewering Time!

When it’s time, set up the grill and get it all nice and hot. Meanwhile, thread the shrimp on the soaked skewers. We have a small grilling surface, so I did 4 per skewer. You may want to wear food-safe gloves… I didn’t and my slightly burning fingertips immediately regretted that decision.

Shrimp on the Barbie

Shrimp on the Barbie

Shrimp are an excellent party food since they cook so quickly. Just 2-3 minutes per side on a hot grill and they will be perfectly opaque and juicy. Serve them up and wait for the satisfying “yums” followed by the telltale “sss” as your guests’ varying levels of tolerance for spiciness are put to the test.

We started with this...

I managed to snap a few pics before they were all claimed and devoured

There are plenty of hot sauce marinated shrimp recipes out there, and even ones that also feature the beloved sriracha, but many only call for mere tablespoons of the stuff for the same quantity of shrimp. It’s no surprise then that Helen of Food52 was awarded “Best Shrimp Recipe” for this stellar recipe that dares to really pack a punch. Give it a whirl for your next summer barbecue – it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser! (And if you liked this recipe, check out her grilled lamb, also a winner on Food52.)