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~ Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass) ~

IMG_7071Cóctel de camarónes.  That's Spanish for cocktail of shrimp.  If you're a fan of Southwestern spice, but never tasted a shrimp cocktail prepared Mexican-style, I recommend giving this Southwestern perfect-for-Summer twist on the classic a try -- plenty of plump, tender, poached (sometimes lightly-grilled) shrimp, swimming around in a citrusy, tomato, cilantro and spicy-hot sauce, containing pieces of diced avocado, cucumber, onion and jalapeño.  It's a snazzy fork-friendly salad in a glass, not to be confused with its cousin, ceviche, which contains raw, cooked-via-marination fish and/or shellfish mixed with spices, citrus juice, vegetables and/or peppers. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07aaa2a5970dTraditional shrimp cocktail, as we know it today, originated in the early 20th century, with oysters, not shrimp, being the original "cocktail hour" shellfish.  They were typically served in tiny cups as appetizers. The oysters were topped with a spicy ketchup-based sauce containing horseradish and Tabasco, which paired great with martinis and a handful of other pre-dinner cocktails.  Then, along came the 1920's:  the decade of Prohibition.  Bars and restaurants all across America were faced with a lot of idle stemware, until, a savvy bartender or restaurant owner somewhere got the idea to serve his/her shellfish appetizers in the cocktail glasses that were once used to serve alcoholic beverages.  The transition from oysters to whole shrimp did not happen in order to put the "tail" in "cocktail appetizer".  It came about to please the ladies.  The whole shrimp, complete with the pretty little red tail, served as a handle which enabled women to daintily pick-up, dip and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd15720a970dThe first mass produced shrimp cocktail was introduced to the American marketplace in December of 1948.  Sau Sea brand Shrimp Cocktail was invented in New York City by two entrepreneurs by the names of Abraham Kaplan and Ernest Schoenbrun.  The pair borrowed $1,500 dollars from relatives to start retailing individual, 5-ounce portions of ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail, packed in reusable, glass jars, for about 50 cents a piece.  It was just after WWII and frozen/pre-packaged foods and meals were just beginning to gain popularity.  Their timing could not have been better.   Their risky decision to try to take a restaurant delicacy and make it available to the masses paid off big time.

My experiences & my recipe for Mexican-Style shrimp cocktail:

I won't lie, I've only ever eaten Mexican-style shrimp cocktail in the Southwest three times, in this order: Tempe, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, and, San Antonio, TX.  Without being at all critical, because I know recipes vary from region to region, I least liked the Texican version.  The shrimp, lightly-grilled, were a bit dry, and, the sauce was ketchupy, meaning a tad too thick and sweet, not like what I'd experienced prior.  It wasn't bad, it was different, but, did result in my cutting back on the ketchup, then switching to chili sauce in my own version.  I simply preferred the sauces with a fresher-edge -- in the style of Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca/Fresh Salsa)

IMG_6990For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-large shrimp (21/25 count) thawed if frozen, peeled, deveined tails left on  

(Note: I buy both fresh and frozen shrimp, but I always try to purchase tail-on, shell-on, deveined shrimp. To thaw frozen shrimp safely, place them in a bowl of very cold water and in about an hour they'll be completely thawed.)

3  cups water

2  cups white wine

1  large, juicy lemon, cut in half

4  medium-sized bay leaves

IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993~Step 1.  Place the wine and water in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan, then throw in the rinds too.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the shrimp.  When the water returns to a boil, cook for exactly 1 minute.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7009 IMG_7009 IMG_7009~ Step 2.  Drain the shrimp into a colander and rinse under very cold water until shrimp are cool to the touch but still warm warm in their centers, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Transfer shrimp to a 6-cup food storage container. Squeeze whatever liquid is left in the lemon rinds over the shrimp, then place the rinds and the bay leaves in the bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

Note:  This cook-and-chill method is my secret to succulent, perfectly-cooked flavorful shrimp.

IMG_7020For the Mexican cocktail sauce:

1  15-ounce can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1/4  cup Heinz chili sauce

1-2  tablespoons Mexican-style hot sauce, your favorite brand

1-2  tablespoons lime juice, preferably fresh

2  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  jalapeño pepper, seeds and white ribs removed, finely-diced

3/4  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

3/4  cup diced sweet onion

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves, mostly leaves, some stems ok

IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the tomatoes and chili sauce.  Add the hot sauce and lime juice, 1 tablespoon each.  Stir, take a taste, then, add more of one, the other, or both, to taste.  Add the garlic, jalapeños, scallions, onion and cilantro.  Stir, cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, to allow flavors to marry.  There will be about 3 cups thick, chunky Mexican cocktail sauce.

IMG_7045For the add-ins and garnishes:

3  cups cooked and chopped shrimp, from above recipe

1  cup peeled, seeded and diced English cucumber 

2  ripe, Hass avocados, diced (add to bowl ofshrimp cocktail or each portion of shrimp cocktail at serving time)

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves and lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037~Step 1.  Remove the chilled shrimp from the refrigerator.  Sort through them, and, depending upon how many portions of shrimp cocktail you plan to serve, reserve a few of the prettiest ones, 2 per portion, and set them aside, to use as garnish.  Remove the tails from the rest and chop them into 2-3 bite-sized pieces each, placing them in the bowl of chilled cocktail sauce as you work.  Add the diced cucumbers.  Stir, cover and return the shrimp cocktail to the refrigerator again, to allow the flavors to marry, about 1 hour.  There will be 6 cups shrimp cocktail.

Just prior to serving, top w/fresh-diced avocado:

IMG_7065Serve garnished w/cilantro, lime wedge & whole shrimp: 

IMG_7073Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass):  Recipe yields 6 cups shrimp cocktail prior to adding the chopped avocado and garnishes/6-8 start-to-a-meal-sized 1-ish cup servings or 4 larger 2-ish cup luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 1-gallon food storage bag;  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ee5f51970bCook's Note: Shrimp cocktail is not just an American delicacy.  The British refer to it as "prawn cocktail" and have been serving it as long as we have, but there it's served with a creamy cocktail sauce called Marie Rose sauce, or, Mary Rose sauce. My version of ~ The Prawn/Shrimp Cocktail w/Marie Rose Sauce ~ is fashioned after the one I fell in love with at Browns restaurant while in London in 1983. Give this "across the pond" recipe a try.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2024


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