It’s incredibly delicious.
It’s spicy shrimp and avocado.
It’s exceptional – trust me.
There was a fantastic article in the Chicago Tribune years ago on the history of this dish, which I have excerpted below:
Coctel de Camarones is often called Mexican shrimp cocktail, but it’s nothing like American shrimp cocktail. It’s a very popular Mexican dish, and it’s always a cold tomato-based soup with chunks of vegetables and shrimp, sort of like a cross between a Virgin Mary and gazpacho. Refrigerating it for several hours allows the flavors to meld.
I tried in vain to figure out when the Mexican coctel de mariscos first appeared. I reached out to Rick Bayless, chef and co-owner of Mexican restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo among others, who thought my hunch that it was inspired by the American dish sounded correct, but added that he “can’t back that up.” Bayless did, however, invite me to look through his massive collection of Mexican cookbooks housed in a room above Frontera and Topolobampo. After three hours of leafing through hundreds of Mexican cookbooks written in both Spanish and English, I came away just as confused.
I couldn’t find any mention of the dish in “El Cocinero Mexicano,” a cookbook that dates to 1831. Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s exhaustive “Larousse Diccionario Enciclopedico de la Gastronomia Mexicana,” published in 2013, does have an entry for coctel de mariscos, but no mention of when it was invented. In “Yucatan” from 2014, author David Sterling writes that some people claim that the “seafood cocktail was invented in Campeche,” but he’s unsure if that’s “true or not,” nor does he give any date.
One of the earliest mentions that I could find was in a book called “Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking” by Elena Zelayeta in 1958, which has a recipe for coctel de abulon, or abalone cocktail. Maria A. de Carbia’s “Mexico Through My Kitchen Window,” published in 1961, features a recipe for avocado cocktail, which features no seafood, but does include ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
Regardless of its origins, coctel de mariscos is a dish that you eat (hopefully with a stack of saltines), not drink. And any steakhouse waiter would look at you in horror if you tried to slurp a shrimp cocktail. Yet, despite a good hundred years of life outside the beverage category, the majority of shrimp cocktails and cocteles de mariscos are still served in cups, when a bowl or a plate with a saucer for the cocktail sauce would do just fine. While most restaurants probably have no idea why they even serve shrimp cocktail this way, hints of the dish’s little-known history continue to hide in plain sight.
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