Cóctel de Camarones (Shrimp Cocktails)

Many years ago BC (Before Children), Tristan and I spent 6 weeks backpacking thru Mexico and Guatemala and got a mouth-watering education in "beyond-burritos-and-tacos" Mexican cuisine.  

In Pátzcuaro, we snacked on charales, pinky-sized fish, deep-fried and eaten whole, served in take-away paper cones to be eaten like french fries as we strolled along the lakeside.  On a cold morning in the mountains, we found breakfast in the village plaza - warm strawberry tamales accompanied by atole, a hot, masa-based drink.  Further south in Oaxaca, we sampled pan de muerto, or Bread of the Dead, traditionally baked and eaten leading up to and on Dias de los Muertos.  From coast to coast, we discovered pibil (succulent citrus-marinated meats, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted in pit ovens), moles of every color, chapulines (roasted grasshoppers seasoned with garlic and lime) and paletas in a rainbow of flavors to cool us down.

But our most memorable dining experience was sidling up to a street corner food stand at a busy intersection in the middle of Mexico City and ordering Cóctel de Camarones.  For a couple of US dollars, we were treated to a tall, clear, ice cream sundae glass, brimming with chilled shrimp bathed in a sweet, citrusy ketchup sauce.  We stood on the sidewalk and ate.

You know how when food is really good, so good, that everyone goes silent?  Well, that's what it was like. When we were done, we handed the empty glasses back to the proprietor who washed them in a plastic tub, ready for the next customer.  We were so taken, we made a point of going back to the stand every time we returned to our base in Mexico City.  Writing about it now still tickles me with delight, remembering the joy of experiencing something delicious and magical.

Happily, when we got back home, we found a recipe in Nancy Zaslvsky's book A Cook's Tour of Mexico that reproduces the magic of our Mexican shrimp cocktails.

Cóctel de Camarones
Adapted from A Cook's Tour of Mexico by Nancy Zaslavsky
Serves 8 as an appetizer

Prepare Shrimp Broth
In large stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.  Add and cook for 10 minutes:
1 small white onion, quartered
1 medium tomato, quartered
1 teaspoon salt

Add to stockpot and cook till they turn pink, about 5 minutes:
2 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, uncooked, shells on but deveined  [Use kitchen shears and cut thru outer edge (back) of shrimp to expose and remove vein]

Remove shrimp from cooking broth and cool.  Save the broth for the sauce.  When shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel shells off.

Prepare Cocktail Sauce
Combine in 2-qt, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer:
1 cup ketchup
1 rounded tablespoon dark brown sugar

Add and then stir and simmer for 10 minutes:
1/2 to 3/4 cup Fanta or other orange soda  [The secret ingredient!]

Prepare garnishes:
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 avocados, peeled and chopped
1 white onion, minced
8 small limes

In each of 8 large glasses add:  2 tablespoons cilantro, 3 tablespoons chopped tomatoes, 3 tablespoons avocado, 1 teaspoon onion, the juice of 1 lime, about 12 cooled shrimp, and 1/4 cup cocktail sauce.  Add 1/2 cup slightly warm shrimp broth and stir.  Serve with tortilla chips or saltine crackers. ¡Buen provecho!

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