Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail and Coctel Campechana

While many Mexican recipes can be complicated and take a long time to prepare, there are also plenty of them that you can whip up in 15 minutes or so, and they're just as authentic, just as delicious. Mexican housewives like to take shortcuts and keep things simple just as much as housewives everywhere else do. After all, a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving or tamales at Christmas time are not something you want to labor over every day.

Here are two simple recipes for seafood lovers that are perfect for those hot August days and nights. (OK, so they'll take a little longer than 15 minutes, counting the chilling time; they're still simple and quick.) One is an authentic Shrimp Cocktail, the other a seafood cocktail called Campechana that is usually made of oysters, baby octopus, mussels, shrimp, squid and scallops. Campechana (which originated in the state of Campeche) is prepared in its broth with vegetable juice, lime juice, ketchup, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, avocado and cilantro.

Both dishes are traditionally served in big ice cream soda glasses, though you might also find campechana served in a big soup bowl. If you're a true Mexicophile, you've probably had dreams about that perfect shrimp cocktail or campechana you had under a palapa on some beach somewhere, with sand between your toes and the smell of the ocean and tanning oil on the breeze, but have never found again. Well, here they are, especially for you. (Note: This is NOT the same thing as ceviche)

A word here about the shrimp and other seafood: It really doesn't matter what kind you use, or what size of shrimp, but it is critical to use seafood that is either absolutely FRESH or, if frozen, that has no strong smell. Shrimp especially, when straight out of the sea, has little odor other than the sweet ocean smell. Once you can really start smelling a seriously fishy odor in either fresh or frozen shrimp, it's no good and you shouldn't use it.

And now for the good stuff...


Recipe inspired by and photo courtesy of Mexican Food Recipes
Serves 4


For Poaching the Shrimp:
  • 48 fresh, large shrimp with shells on
  • water to cover shrimp (about 6 to 8 cups, depending on the size of the shrimp)
  • 1 stick celery with leaves on
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • 1 white onion, peeled
  • 1 carrot, washed but unpeeled
  • 1 serrano chili, split from tip nearly to stem
  • 5 stems of cilantro
For Making the Cocktail Sauce:
  • Broth left over from poaching the shrimp
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato catsup
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 4 tablespoons minced Roma tomato
  • 4 tablespoons minced cucumber
  • 4 tablespoons minced white onion
  • Lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced serrano chili
  • 4 stems cilantro, roughly chopped
To Garnish:

1/2 cup guacamole
4 thick slices of lime


In large, straight-sided pan, put enough water to cover the shrimp, about 6 to 8 cups depending on how big the shrimp are. Bring water to a boil, add poaching ingredients, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add raw shrimp and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until shrimp are still pink but very tender. Immediately remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and immerse them in ice water to stop them from overcooking, which makes them tough.

Discard the vegetables but keep the poaching liquid and chill it. Note that it is the briny taste the shrimp adds to the broth that makes this dish special.

Shell and devein the shrimp, and chill them some more if necessary.

To serve, mix the catsup with the reserved poaching liquid, the sea salt, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Divide the onion, tomato, and cucumber between 4 serving glasses and do the same with the serrano chili and cilantro.

Put 12 shrimp in each glass and pour the sauce over the top to cover everything.

Garnish each glass with a lime wedge and add a dollop of guacamole on top of the shrimp cocktail.

CAMPECHANA (Coctel de Mariscos):

The easy way-- with a frozen mix (you can generally find this at a Sam's Club, Wal-Mart or Costco. You can also sometimes get a mix from Food4less already pre-sliced and ready to go.) Serves about 10

  • 3 lbs seafood mix
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 3 large tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, finely chopped
  • 2 ripe avocados, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp vinegar
  • Juice from 4 limes
  • 4 cups reserved seafood broth
  • 3 cups vegetable, V-8 or clamato juice (your choice; I like to use clamato)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
Boil seafood mix in 4 to 5 cups of water for 5 to 10 minutes. Do not overcook or it will be tough! Drain, setting aside broth, and put seafood into an ice bath to stop the cooking and start the chilling process.

Cool both seafood and broth.

Prepare tomatoes, onions, cilantro, cucumbers and jalapenos and mix well in a LARGE bowl. Add the seafood mix. Add vinegar and juice from limes. Add broth, ketchup and vegetable juice.

Season with cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Add avocados. Mix gently, but well. Ladle into ice cream soda glasses or in soup bowls. This should be a rather soupy mixture, though you can make it less soupy if you prefer. It's best when you let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour or two to get completely cold and marry the flavors.

Serve with tortilla chips or saltine crackers. And don't forget the margaritas or a good cold Mexican beer on the side!

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)