Tropical flavors abound in this easy and healthyish Tapado Recipe! Make it on your stove top, or speed up the process using your Instant Pot. Either way, the dish is replete with fresh fish and shrimp, plantains, sweet potatoes, in a savory and delicious coconut broth!
In these waning, gloomy days of winter (near the Gulf coast), I find myself craving tropical flavors. It’s not cold, but the ocean fog rarely seems to lift. Tapado on the patio, palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze, and a glass of wine is good therapy… So –
What is Tapado?
While much of Guatemalan food celebrates the country’s Mayan heritage (maize, beans, tortillas), tapado is a dish that originated with its coastal Garifuna people. While most Garifuna are of mixed ancestry, their roots are in Afro-Caribbean culture. Today, their global population is close to 300,000, and you will find many of them in the US and Canada. In Central American, you will find them in the coastal communities of Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua.
Tapado can be as simple or elaborate as you want to make it. For this recipe, I specify a firm white fish like cod, and shrimp. Why? Accessibility. Even landlocked cooks in the US interior typically have access to good quality fish and shellfish (albeit frozen). There is nothing wrong with frozen seafood folks!
I love plantains (and don’t use them often enough). They are a traditional ingredient in the stew. My version (may not be authentic?) uses sweet potatoes. If you hate sweet potatoes, substitute white potatoes, purple yams, butternut squash. Nothing is “etched in stone” in the kitchen. 😉
A sofrito – onion, garlic, bell pepper, and olive or coconut oil – provides the foundation for the stew. In my tapado research, I don’t think I came across a single version that did not include it. It’s kind of “a thing” in Latin and Caribbean cooking.
I have made many different types of seafood soups, stews, and chowders including my Irish Scallop Bisque, my Healthy Corn and Shrimp Chowder, and my Seafood Stew with Saffron-infused Broth (needs new photos!). The defining (and amazing) flavor in a tapado, though, is the coconut milk.
Wait! Coconut milk as a base hardly qualifies as “healthy,” right? As I mention in the introductory paragraph, this is “healthyish.” I do reserve the right to occasionally throw caution to the wind.
I did lighten it up a bit by using lite coconut milk in place of the full fat coconut milk. Some recipes called for coconut “cream” and while I know how tasty that stuff is, I just can’t put it in my stew. Typically, the recipes used a full-fat coconut milk with varying amounts of broth or stock.
My first attempt used a 50/50 ratio of lite coconut milk and seafood stock. My husband and I loved it, but we agreed that we would really like more coconut flavor. I knew that using the full-fat coconut milk would greatly increase fat and calories. My hunch was to use only lite coconut milk (omitting the added broth), but I didn’t want a “one note” broth. It was then that I remembered a new ingredient I had picked up to try recently – a reduced sodium chicken broth concentrate. I whisked a tablespoon of the chicken broth concentrate with the lite coconut milk and the ground annato (achiote).
Instant Pot or Stove Top?
Instant Pots are definitely trending. I am not one to use my own Instant Pot for everything I make. (I do know plenty of people that do, and as long as it get you cooking, it’s all good!). I do have a couple of dishes that are one-pot (cook and eat) like Instant Pot Adzuki Bean Soup with Miso, Winter Squash, and Kale and Instant Pot Argentinian Beef Stew (Carbonada Criolla). More often than not, though, I use my Instant Pot (or stove top pressure cooker) to expedite some portion of a dish as in Instant Pot Cannelini Beans with Penne, Baby Kale, and Slow Roasted Tomatoes or to make beans or broth/stock.
In contemplating how to present this dish, I had to really evaluate the benefits (if any) of using the IP/pressure cooker. #1 There is only one instance that I have used a pressure cooker on fish – Instant Pot Salmon and Rice With Lemon Caper Chimichurri. It’s a really tasty and healthy salmon recipe, and the salmon cooks on a rack, together with the rice. The rice comes out tender rather than mushy, and the salmon is nicely cooked. #2 I knew there was no way to get “hard” vegetables tender without overcooking the shrimp and fish. #3 The sauté feature on the Instant Pot makes it a multi-method cooker. Thus, I landed on using the Instant Pot for the sofrito, vegetables, and broth under pressure, and finishing the stew on the sauté setting… in a mere 5 minutes!
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this is still a relatively quick and easy dish. The plantains take the longest time to cook. Green plantains (which I prefer for this recipe) take longer than plantains that are more ripe. Cutting the sweet potatoes in chunks, and the plantains in 1/4″ slices should get them done in about the same amount of time on the stove… 25-30 minutes.
Either way, you’ll have this ready in under 45 minutes, and it’s dinner party worthy! I wrote the recipe for 2, but it’s easy to scale…
You will start with a simple sofrito of onion, garlic, and sweet bell pepper (red, orange, yellow). My addition of fresh ginger pays homage to the Caribbean roots of the Garifuna people. I prefer refined coconut oil (smoke point is higher than unrefined coconut oil or olive oil).
Next I add the sweet potato chunks, slice plantain, and tiny tomatoes. (You may substitute chopped tomatoes, but it takes more time 🙂 ).
Give this mixture a minute or two to sauté while you whisk the lite (or regular) coconut milk with the ground annato (achiote) and chicken broth concentrate. Add the coconut milk mixture to the pot (whether it be the Instant Pot pot or a Dutch oven). Add the oregano, and give it all a good stir.
If using a pressure cooker, set for 4 minutes on high pressure, and lock the lid. If using a Dutch oven on your stove top, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Do a quick pressure release when the 4 minutes are up on your IP/pressure cooker. Stove top timing will depend on when your vegetables are barely tender.
Add the shrimp and fish. Bring to a boil, and simmer about 5 minutes until both are opaque. This time varies, but the instructions apply to both cooking methods.
We love to garnish our food! On the night I took photos, I garnished with chopped fresh cilantro and unsweetened and toasted coconut. This is by all accounts, a delightful dish. Just ask my husband, who endured eating it a few times in a few days. 😉