Asopao de Camarones (Puerto Rican Shrimp and Rice Stew)

Fall has returned and though the weather hasn’t quite yet cooled down completely (at least not in New York City), the first hints of the new season already have me craving heartier dishes like this asopao de camarones.

Asopao is a cozy Puerto Rican rice and shrimp stew that’s like a cross between gumbo and paella, but which comes together quickly and with much fewer steps than those other two seafood rice dishes. It’s the perfect comfort food meal that works just as well for easy weeknight dinners or low-key weekend dinner parties with friends.

The name “Asopao” is a shortened form of the word “asopado,” which means “soaked” in Spanish, and it’s a perfect way to describe the way the rice soaks in the rich flavorful broth. The result is a satisfying dish that’s much thicker than a classic rice soup, though not quite as completely absorbed as a dish like paella.

Asopao can actually be made with a variety of proteins (chicken being one of the most popular), but the shrimp version has always been my favorite. I also love to add a little bit of chorizo, ham, or bacon to the base for additional smoky flavor. The star of the dish is the rice, so feel free to get creative with the other ingredients—you can even make a vegetarian version using a vegetable broth and swapping in chickpeas, tofu, or mushrooms.

Like many Puerto Rican dishes, asopao starts by sautéing an aromatic base of peppers, garlic, onions, and herbs known as a “sofrito” in oil, then adding the rest of the ingredients and letting it simmer. Sofrito is typically made in advance in a large batch that you can add to each dish, but I’ve simplified it here and just included the sofrito ingredients as part of the main recipe.

I also recommend buying shrimp with the shells (or at least the tails) still attached so that you can add them to your broth for a more intense seafood flavor. This dish is really all about creating a rich stock that the rice can absorb, so you want to enhance the flavor as much as possible. That said, I know peeling shrimp can be a incredibly high maintenance, so look for the “easy peel” varieties, which pluck off quickly and will help you get the maximum flavor with minimum work!

Keep in mind that the longer this sits, the thicker it will become as the rice will continue to drink up all the broth. I recommend reserving a bit of extra seafood broth or clam juice and using it to thin out any leftovers when reheating. If you’re serving this for guests, you can prepare the stew in advance, but don’t add the shrimp until just before serving. They only take a few minutes to cook, so it’s best to let the stew reach the perfect consistency before you add them in order to avoid overcooking them.

Asopao is a complete meal on its own, but would be lovely accompanied with a simple avocado salad or maybe even a few fried plantains. Then perhaps a slice of arroz con leche flan for dessert?

¡Buen provecho!

Asopao de Camarones (Puerto Rican Shrimp and Rice Stew)
Serves 6

3 pounds medium shrimp
4 cups seafood stock or broth
2 cups clam juice
2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell peppers, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 pound Spanish chorizo, smoked ham, or bacon, diced (optional)
5 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon Smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1 cup pimento-stuffed olives, sliced
2 tablespoons capers
1 lime, juiced
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

Peel and devein shrimp, reserving shells. Cover shrimp and refrigerate. Combine shells, seafood broth, clam juice, and water in a medium size pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.

While broth simmers, heat oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Add the diced onion, bell peppers, salt, and black pepper. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chorizo/ham/bacon (if using) and saute an additional 10 minutes. Add the garlic and let cook 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, paprika, cumin, and oregano. Place a sieve over the pot and pour in the simmering broth, straining out the shells. Add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add the rice, olives, capers, lime juice, and cilantro. Let simmer uncovered for 15 - 20 minutes, or until rice is tender and stew has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding additional salt or pepper, as needed. Remove the bay leaves, stir in the raw peeled shrimp and let cook 3-5 minutes, or until shrimp are fully cooked. Serve immediately garnished with additional cilantro.

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