Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mexican Style Shrimp Cocktail

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Mexican Style Shrimp Cocktail
Serves: 6
Mexican style shrimp cocktail 
Ditch the usual American shrimp cocktail found in the grocer aisle – pre-made and often with overcooked shrimp that is typically served with horseradish sauce, and give this one a try. Mexican cuisine has its own rendition, with some similarities but trades out the horseradish for hot sauce and really amps up the seafood flavor with clam juice. There is no finer antidote to hot weather than this Mexican version of the shrimp cocktail. Served in a margarita glass, pilsner or tall parfait glass, it makes an excellent appetizer, party fare or light luncheon. In Mexico, it is traditionally served with saltine crackers but tortilla chips and a wedge of additional lime will also work. This is super simple and easy to make. The sauce can be made, covered and refrigerated 1-2 days in advance. Cook the shrimp early in the day and assemble the cocktail within an hour or so of serving.

I first had to get over the fear of using lots of ketchup. I tried this recipe with a few versions that started with a different kind of tomato sauce, but nothing worked quite as well. What is most odd about this recipe is how even one-fourth of a cup of Mexican hot sauce does not end up tasting all that hot. Sure it is diluted with clam & tomato juice but I think it’s the sweetness of the shrimp that really does the trick. If you are nervous, cut back on the hot sauce but have additional limes and hot sauce available for your guests to doctor it up as they see fit. Similar dishes, including the famous campechana seafood cocktail and hang-over restorative, vuelve a la vida (return to life!), can also be prepared with the same sauce by adding some crab meat, oysters, squid and/or just about any other type of cut up seafood in place of some of the shrimp.
Key ingredients....yes, ketchup!
It is rare that I buy cooked shrimp. I much prefer cooking my own to assure it is perfectly done. My preferred method is to roast the shrimp. Yes, roast it! Shrimp is highly perishable. Select firm shrimp with a mild scent. If there is any hint of the aroma of ammonia, it is a sign the shrimp is way past its prime. Do not confuse the term "fresh" with never frozen. Truth be told, you probably will be unable to find never-frozen shrimp fresh from the ocean these days unless you have a shrimper friend or net it yourself. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Nowadays, shrimp is harvested, cleaned, and flash frozen on the boats. This makes for a fresher product, until it reaches the market.

Once it reaches the market, you are at the mercy of the handlers. If it goes right into the freezer, all is well. If you are buying from the seafood counter, there is no telling how long that shrimp has been defrosted. You are better off buying frozen shrimp and defrosting it yourself in the refrigerator. It does not take long to defrost and to roast. But if you do not have the time, medium cooked shrimp with the tails removed would be your best substitute. Shrimp are normally graded by size and count, meaning the average number of shrimp to make a pound weight. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp.
  •  6 C Clamato juice
  • ¾ C ketchup, or slightly more
  • 7 Tb fresh lime juice
  • 1 ½ small white sweet onion, chopped (Maui or Vidalia)
  • ¼ C Mexican hot sauce (Valentine or Tamazula)
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, tails removed (31-35)
  • 1 Tb good olive oil
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 3 avocadoes, cut into bite sized pieces
  • ¼ C cilantro, torn or chopped into small pieces
  • Extra limes for garnish
  • Saltine crackers or tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel, devein and remove the tail 1lb medium shrimp (31-35 shrimp). Place them on a sheet pan with 1 Tb olive oil and ½ tsp each of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix and spread them in one layer. Roast for 8 minutes, just until pink and firm and cooked through.  Set aside to cool.  The shrimp can be roasted earlier on the day of serving.
Roasting the shrimp
Perfect ! 
For the sauce, combine 6 C Clamato juice, ¾ C ketchup, or enough to thicken juice to consistency of thin tomato sauce, 7 Tb lime juice, 1 ½ chopped sweet onion and ¼ C Mexican hot sauce (Valentine or Tamazula).  Mix thoroughly and chill. This can be made up to two days before serving.
The sauce containing the fixin's
When ready to serve, add cooled shrimp, 3 avocadoes, and ¼ C cilantro. Serve shortly thereafter in a deep margarita glass, pilsner or parfait glass with lime wedges, saltine or tortilla chips.

I love serving this as an easy appetizer. Guests always love the presentation. Wine pairing can be problematic given the acid in the Clamato juice.  You could certainly serve with a beer – an amber ale or pilsner would be terrific.  However, Champagne remains my favorite or a wonderful cold Sauvignon Blanc.

Bon Appetit!


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