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Tiny dried shrimp and fish in Mexican markets - how are they used?

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I've been checking out Mexican markets near me. All of them seem to have dried shrimp or teeny, tiny whole dried fish, none bigger than an inch long and many smaller.

Usually they will be on the meat counter in those quart-sized plastic deli tubs or sold in a big jar where you can order by weight I'm guessing.

The fish dont seem to have a uniform look to them. That is, they will be different at each market.

In all my Mexican food eating, I don't think I've knowingly eaten tiny dried fish or shrimp. The shrimp must be common since I was checking out the Mexican spice selection at Raley's supermarket and they were in with all the other spices.

How are these eaten?

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  1. They're used in Michoacana cooking -- there's a soup called "caldo de camaron seco". They're also used in omelettes sometimes, but typically they're ground up before being used.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Yup! They are usually further ground up when used. Usually in fish soups (Shrimp Pozole and Siete Mares Soups are common).

      --Dommy!

      1. re: Dommy

        OK, super dumb question ... how do you grind them? Spice grinder? It may be time to start looking into a Mexican cooking class.

        1. re: rworange

          They usually are crumbly enough to grind them up with your hand. :) You can also use a Molcajete... :)

          --Dommy!

          1. re: rworange

            Mortar and pestle. Crush some garlic and salt in there afterwards to avoid it stinking like fish.

      2. They are used in Bahia cooking of Brazil. They also ground them up to flavor sauces for dishes such as vatapa, their chicken and shrimp stew called xinxim. They sometimes eat them as cocktail tidbits.

        4 Replies
        1. re: PBSF

          Thanks so much so far to both of you. We have a lot of Brazilians in the area so that could explain some of this. Do they use the little dried fish too?

          1. re: rworange

            North Africans brought dried smoke fish and the Portugese salt cod (bacalhau) to Brazil. They'll use them to make fish stews, fritters, scramble eggs. They are not usually ground up for favoring.

            1. re: PBSF

              No, this isn't bacalhau. These are fish way smaller than small goldfish ... like those teeny, tiny fish in aquariums and the fish is whole. Also, they don't look salted, just dried.

              1. re: rworange

                Sorry, I can't shed any light on the little dried fish. If it is a Chinese grocer, I'll be able to help.

        2. either the srimp can be ground or chopped finely, and used as a seasoning. it can also be used to make a very quick fish broth. usually they are used in a manner that rehydrates them, but not always, if i am not mistaken.

          1. i think there is a dish called 'romeritos' which is the ground dried shrimp in patty form in a red chile sauce. I think its a lenten meal. I had it in a taco once.

            1. Mexican food still has an amazing diversity of foodstuff. the mexica (later aztecs) who settled mexico city ate everything from the lake: fish, frogs, their eggs, mosquito larvae, worms, snails, algaes, everything. They had to get their protein from a variety of sources before the spanish arrived with pigs, cows, dogs, chickens, and goats.

              small dried fish are common regional snacks. in Michoacan they are charales- the most common name in central mexico I believe- for the small fried fish. they are eaten as a snack maybe with beers. I saw a lot of people selling them at the docks for isla janitzio outside of patzcuaro during dia de los muertos. (Cristina, if she's around can better describe the delicacies of this region)

              also, we were served little fried dried fish in tacos under another name, topotes, in catemaco, southern veracruz. my chilango boyfriend was surpised to recieve this as an entree, but ate them with a smile.

              the dried shrimp sold whole & in powder are VERY important to mexican cuisine both for the romeritos (a crazy dish of shrimp tortitas & romerito herb in mole) that are mandatory at christmas & lent AND for the famosa caldo de cameron ubiquitos at cantinas coast to coast- providing drinkers (like the aforementioned chilango boyfriend) sustenance for marathon drinking sessions & the subsequent hangovers!

              there are many caldos de cameron, but in cantinas they are always spicy & salty

              also in the mountains of guatemala these fresh water fish are common as one of precious proteins in the indigenous diet.

              fyi: more on insect eating in mexico: http://www.insectariumvirtual.com/rep...
              http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/08/03...

              1 Reply
              1. re: nychilanga

                In Cuba they use it for fried rice.