American shrimp cocktail will always be a classic, but I’m here to tell you that the Mexican take on the dish has a whole lot more personality. Cóctel de camarón offers an incredible mix of flavors and textures: plump, tender poached shrimp; crisp bites of raw onion and cucumber; and cool, creamy avocado are all coated in a tangy, spicy-sweet tomato sauce. Eaten ice‑cold with a spoon and saltines, it’s like a festive, shrimp‑packed Bloody Mary or gazpacho.
I’ve made—and eaten—a lot of cóctel de camarón and know that success lies in nailing two key aspects: the cooking of the shrimp and the sweetness and consistency of the sauce, which always contains ketchup.
There are several ways to poach delicate proteins such as shrimp: Start cold and bring everything to a simmer; add the food to 160-degree water and fiddle with the stove to maintain a consistent temperature; or dump everything into boiling water and pull it off the burner so that carryover cooking does the job. The residual heat method gave me the most consistent results with the least effort. Here’s the interesting part, though: Boiling water is way too hot for cooking delicate shrimp, but when 11/4 pounds of cold, raw seafood is added to 3 cups of boiling water, the water temperature instantly drops to 155 degrees, ideal for poaching. After 5 minutes off the heat, the shrimp were tender and opaque. For easy eating, I cut each one crosswise into three bite-size pieces.
With the shrimp all set, I tackled the sauce. Along with ketchup, the sauce for cóctel de camarón typically includes some variety of tomato juice (frequently Clamato) as well as hot sauce and fresh lime juice. But when I stirred together 2 cups of Clamato, ¾ cup of ketchup, lime juice, and hot sauce, the finished sauce was too sugary and thin. Reducing the Clamato by half and the ketchup by ¼ cup yielded a sauce with a thicker consistency, but the oversweetness persisted.
Since ketchup was the sole source of body, I hesitated to use even less. Instead, I made three more batches: one with Clamato, one with tomato juice, and one with V8. The V8 version struck the right balance: equally sweet and savory, with touches of tartness.
Ready to round out the dish, I cut a ripe avocado and half an English cucumber into bite-size chunks. For savory crunch, I added finely chopped red onion to the mix. Finally, a smattering of chopped cilantro contributed freshness.
With my work complete, I set out saltines, lime wedges, and a bottle of hot sauce—essential accompaniments to a stellar cóctel de camarón.