Mexican Shrimp Cocktail with Saffron
A funny thing happens when you marry a pata salada (Spanish for salty foot—the endearing nickname given to people who are raised on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco): You become a mariscos snob.Since meeting my wife Paola, my seafood consumption has spiked to near-ridiculous levels. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep up with her Neptune-like appetite for anything from the sea. As a result, I can tell you if a shrimp cocktail is made properly or not. Meaning, if the broth is made from scratch with shrimp shells and aromatics versus just throwing a bunch of tomato cocktail mix, ketchup, and hot sauces together in a bowl.Coctél de camarón (you may know it as Mexican shrimp cocktail) has a special place in our life. It has become our welcome meal as soon as we land in Puerto Vallarta, usually famished. We arrive at Paola’s family’s home where a bowl of her mother’s replenishing coctél awaits. It always starts off our trip to paradise on the right foot.One day back home in Los Angeles, I called my mother-in-law and asked her to coach me through her coctél process to surprise Paola. (She was mad at me that day, and I needed all the help I could get to get out of the doghouse!) The idea was to surprise her with one of our favorite dishes that we associate with so many great memories. While the shrimp shells were simmering away to make the broth, I spotted our Spanish saffron container out of the corner of my eye and figured, what the hell? I grabbed a fat pinch of the stuff and added it to the broth.As the broth chilled to room temperature—the way to properly eat a Mexican coctél de camarón, so you can taste all of the delicate flavors and fresh shrimp—I took a sip, and my eyes grew big. It was so good. Her mother’s coctél is perfect as-is, but with a pinch of Spanish saffron, it became a revelatory experience. It did the trick and we forgot what we argued about after a couple of big spoonfuls.In this recipe, Paola amplifies the flavor even more by charring the vegetables a bit before using them to build an umami-filled stock. Combined with the saucy shrimp and all the cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro, and avocado, this dish is suitable for a complete lunch. Eat it with some good tostadas or saltine crackers to complete the Puerto Vallarta experience.