This is what you serve when you want the seafood cocktail to be the impressive main event. In Mexico, it’s a malt glass filled to the brim with shrimp, maybe scallops, always octopus, squid or sea snails, and, if the place is really good, a spoonful of ceviche and a couple of raw oysters. By the way, when oysters are added, the coctel typically goes by the name of vuelve a la vida, “return to life,” because of its purported ability to cure a hangover.
In Mexican market you can buy all the cooked seafood you need to make this coctel. While most cooks rely on cooked seafood, some use raw shrimp (or half of them raw) and some favor raw scallops as part of the mix. If you’re feeling flush, the addition of 4 to 6 ounces of picked crab is really, really good.
You may be wondering about Clamato juice in the list of ingredients. History tells us that the product was invented in the northern Baja city of Mexicali, near the U.S. border—again, as a hangover cure. It’s always been very popular in Mexico as an ingredient in beer-fueled micheladas, but I think it’s most valuable in a coctel campechano. You’ll likely find it in your local grocery store (it’s now an American product made by the Mott company); if not, it’s in every Mexican grocery I’ve visited. Bloody Mary mix could be substituted.
The word campechano in Mexican Spanish, when not referring to a person from the state of Campeche, always refers to a mixture of things. A taco campechano has lots of different meats; a coctel campechano, lots of seafood. Legend has it that during the 19th century, pirates plied the waters off the Caribbean state of Campeche, stopped along the coast with barrels of rum, which the locals mixed with local spirits and other ingredients to create liquid kind of cocteles. And thus, everything with lots of ingredients became campechano.
6ouncessashimi-quality boneless, skinless ocean fish fillet (snapper, halibut, grouper or bass are good choices)
1/2cupfresh lime juice
1cupClamato tomato cocktail
1/3cup clam juice (or the poaching liquid from seafood you’ve cooked)
3or4 tablespoons (or more) vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce (like Tamazula, Valentina, Búfalo or a chipotle-flavored one)
1or3 tablespoons Salsa Bruja or extra lime juice
2or3 tablespoons good olive oil (optional but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1pound (about 2 packed cups) chilled cooked seafood—small shrimp, cubed octopus or squid, small scallops (see note below on cooking)
8fresh-shucked oysters (optional, but highly recommended)
1medium-large (8-ounce) ripe tomato, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1smallmedium white onion, chopped into ¼-inch pieces and rinsed, plus a little extra for garnish
About1/2chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
2ripe avocados, split, pit removed, flesh scooped from the skin, cubed
Tostadasor tortilla chips or saltine crackers for serving
Marinate the fish. In a large bowl, combine the fish with the lime juice. Stir every few minutes for about half an hour as the fish makes its way toward ceviche.
Make the sauce. In the bowl with the fish, combine the ketchup, Clamato, clam juice (or cooking liquid), hot sauce, Salsa Bruja (or extra lime) and olive oil. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.
Finish the coctel. Add the cooked seafood, oysters if you have them, tomato, onion and cilantro. Gently fold in avocado. Spoon your coctel campechano into bowls or, as they do in Mexico, into old-fashioned malt glasses. Garnish with a little chopped onion and cilantro. Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines (the most common accompaniment in Mexico) to enjoy alongside.
Cooking small shrimp or scallops: For me, the surest method is to bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil, add the shrimp or scallops, cover, let return just to a boil and pour off the water. If the seafood isn’t quite cooked, cover and let steam from the heat of the pan for another minute or two. Cool in ice water for the crispest texture.
Cooking octopus or squid: I like to simply simmer them in salted water until tender, about 30 minutes for squid, 1 ½ to 2 hours for medium (1 ½- to 2-pound) octopus. Cool in the broth. I usually add some onion, garlic, black pepper and bay leaves to the simmering water.
For the professional: The sauce makes about 2 ½ cups. For service, the seafood can be mixed together (everything but oysters) and pre-portioned, if that helps, or stored separately and mixed to order. I figure about 6 ounces of seafood per serving with a scant 2/3 cup sauce. Of course, the vegetables should be added at service.