I really miss our annual, month-long vacation trips to the lovely, idyllic town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Soon after arriving, we always make it a habit of stopping in at one of our favorite restaurants, ‘Hecho en Mexico’, that’s nearby the house that we always rent, for a quick meal.
The meal always begins with one of their delicious Margaritas, some freshly made guacamole and then a bowl of their ‘Sopa de Lentejas’ (lentil soup), ending with their ‘Coctel de Camarones’ (Mexican Shrimp Cocktail), and always with another Margarita thrown into the mix. That meal happens to be one of the most satisfying, light, and delicious meals to enjoy after a long day of traveling, unpacking, shopping for essentials to have in the house and exploring the center of town, ‘El Centro’, and its beautiful garden, ‘El Jardín’.
I’m such a huge fan of their Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, that I very seldom ever order it at any other restaurant. There’s something so special about their blend of spices, with the delicately poached shrimp, along with the cocktail sauce, that contains the perfect amount of fresh squeezed lime juice, ketchup and hot sauce. Add in diced fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeños, avocado and cilantro, all usually served in a tall parfait glass, and it’s like eating a salad in a glass! Served alongside an array of hot sauces, salsas and packets of saltine crackers, maybe some tortilla chips, and it’s the perfect meal to cap off a long day of travel.
Here’s an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune describing the history of the dish: “Coctel de Camarones is often called Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, but it’s nothing like American Shrimp Cocktail. It’s a very popular Mexican dish, and it’s always a cold tomato-based soup with chunks of vegetables and shrimp, sort of like a cross between a Virgin Mary and Gazpacho. Refrigerating it for several hours allows the flavors to meld”.
For a recent dinner party, it occurred to me that with the abundance of frozen shrimp taking up much needed real estate in the freezer, why not use them to recreate my version of Hecho en Mexico’s Coctel de Camarones?
I usually always have bags of easy-to-peel, deveined shrimp from Costco in the freezer. I portion out the four pound bag of shrimp into smaller portions of 10 shrimp in a Ziploc bag. That's usually the perfect amount for a dinner for two, as the protein in a pasta dish, Shrimp Pad Thai or Cajun Shrimp Étouffée. I just pull out the bags, remove the shrimp, lay them flat on a half sheet pan covered in a sheet of plastic wrap, and then place them in the fridge to defrost overnight.
I researched several recipes for Coctel de Camarones and finally settled on one that I felt most clearly resembled Hecho en Mexico’s recipe. I also wanted to avoid any recipes that included any type of fresh orange component because one of the guests for the night’s dinner has a severe allergy to orange zest or juice. I wanted to make sure that the recipe I selected included all the ingredients that would make this dish taste like a salad in a glass, such as diced celery, cucumbers, red onion, jalapeno and chopped fresh tomatoes.
In numerous recipes that I found, one ingredient that was used quite often was either clam juice or clamato juice. I don’t have a problem with either of those, but I really wanted to highlight the flavor of the shrimp. So, I settled on a recipe that incorporated a shrimp broth made from water and the shrimp shells that normally would be discarded (I usually always take all the shrimp shells and freeze them for later use).
For this broth, I decided to enhance its flavor by adding in a few black peppercorns a bit of salt and a bay leaf. That's a perfect poaching liquid for the shrimp and once the liquid has cooled down, a delicious ingredient to incorporate into the sauce of the shrimp cocktail. Any leftover poaching liquid could easily be stored in freezable containers, labeled and placed in the freezer for future use, like seafood risotto, a fish stew, or any recipe where a flavorful seafood broth is called for.
I suggest using a good Mexican hot sauce such as Valentina, Tapatío, or Cholula as the sauce that would accompany the cocktail on the side as well as an ingredient in the cocktail sauce itself.
Be sure to check out The Chopping Block's recipe for Spicy Mexican Shrimp Cocktail. It’s another wonderful and delicious version of Coctel de Camarones!
Mexican Shrimp Cocktail (Coctel de Camarones)
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, which includes chilling time for the broth and shrimp
Servings: 6 servings
For the poaching liquid:
6 cups cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
The shells from 1 pound of peeled and deveined shrimp
For the Coctel de Camarones:
1 pound peeled and deveined medium raw shrimp
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 cup peeled, diced, English cucumber
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 to 2 jalapeños minced, with seeds and veins removed for less heat, if desired
1 and 1/2 cups chopped fresh plum tomatoes
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons of Mexican hot sauce
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 avocados, cut into chunks and added 1/2 hour prior to serving
1 cup of reserved shrimp broth chilled
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Add 6 cups of cold water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 6 peppercorns and 1 bay leaf to a large sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp shells and let the mixture come to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow the broth mixture to simmer for 10 minutes.
2. After 10 minutes, remove from the heat and, using a mesh strainer, strain the shells, bay leaf, and peppercorns and broth into a large bowl.
3. Return the broth to the now empty sauce pan, and bring to a simmer. Add the pound of peeled and deveined shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just cooked through. You should notice the shrimps change color from opaque to pink in that amount of time. After 2-3 minutes, remove the shrimp from the simmered broth and place in a medium bowl.
4. Reserve 1 cup of the shrimp broth and place in the refrigerator for later use. Portion out the rest of the shrimp broth into labeled and dated freezable containers, and allow them to come to room temperature before placing the containers in the freezer for future use.
5. Chop the shrimp into bite size pieces. Put the chopped shrimp into a bowl with the chopped onions, cucumbers, celery, minced jalapeños, tomatoes, ketchup, cilantro, lime juice and hot sauce. Gently stir to combine and chill for at least 2 hours.
6. After 2 hours, remove from the refrigerator and slowly add the reserved chilled shrimp broth until you’ve reached the desired consistency you want for your cocktail. The whole cup may not be necessary. Gently mix in the chopped-up avocados. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste, along with more hot sauce, if needed.
7. Spoon and portion into either parfait glasses or decorative cocktail glasses of your choice. Serve with a wedge of lime, saltine crackers and tortilla chips. Be sure to keep a bottle of the Mexican hot sauce on hand for those who want to be daring and bold with their cocktail!
Want to learn new shrimp dishes? Join us for one of these upcoming classes:
- Shellfish on the Grill Saturday, August 28 6:30pm Lincoln Square featuring Grilled Shrimp, Scallop and Fennel Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- Italian Steakhouse Demonstration Thursday, September 2 6:30pm Lincoln Square featuring Shrimp Diavolo (Sautéed Shrimp in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
- Jamaican Grilling Demo on the Patio Saturday, September 4 11am Lincoln Square featuring Citrus Marinated Shrimp with Grilled Scallions and Mango-Habanero Relish
- All-American Hands-On Backyard Barbecue Saturday, September 4 6:30pm Lincoln Square featuring Lemony Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Spicy Cocktail Sauce
- New Orleans Brunch Demo on the Grill Sunday, September 5 11am Lincoln Square featuring Cajun Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Remoulade