Campechana: A Shrimp and Crab Cocktail

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Every Mexican, Text-Mex, Taqueria or gulf coast seafood joint in Houston has a version of a seafood “cocktail”. The cheap versions are little more than boiled shrimp with some onions, spices in a Tabasco-spiced ketchup sauce. They can be ok. However, one of the best versions in town is at Goode Co. Seafood. It’s something Diana and I order everytime we go there for lunch. They call it a Campechana after the Mexican coastal city of Campeche where presumably you find such seafood dishes.

Campechana

When we had a craving for Goode Co. Campechana recently, instead of going out, I decided to make a batch at home. It is just as good and certainly more economical. I knew The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain had a recipe that she based on Goode Co.’s. Lisa is a fan as well it seems.  I picked up some good large gulf coast shrimp and a package of lump crab meat (no way was i going to boil and pick a half pound of crab meat) and put the dish together in less than 30 minutes.

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I used good quality canned fire roasted tomatoes for the sauce and pureed them with a couple of chipotle in adobo peppers. That got tossed with the chunks of seafood, onions, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, minced garlic and minced serrano pepper. I let the mixture sit in the fridge for half an hour or so to chill it well and allow the flavors to meld.

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Meanwhile, I toasted a few corn tortillas, chopped up some more peppers and prepared cubes of avocado. To serve it, I tossed in the avocado cubes, adjusted the seasoning and dished out generous portions garnished with the chiles. It was fantastic with perfect balance of fresh seafood, tart sauce and just the right amount of heat.

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Crab and “Crab”: King Crab, Crab Apple, Basil and Olive Oil Jam

I so need to work on my presentation skills. Funny thing is I had a much better “scheme” for this plate on paper, but not sure why I did not follow it last-minute. Oh well, next time around. One thing I can say is that flavor-wise this worked wonderfully and it really does not look too horrible…just not as nice as I intended.

The dish started when I bought a few crab apples and made a sorbet from them. I used a recipe from the “Alinea Cookbook” for that sorbet. At Alinea they serve the sorbet as part of a cheese course of sorts, along with an olive oil jam, cheddar, onions, eucalyptus and pepper tuile. I wanted to use some of those components but wanted to make a dish with king crab legs, admittedly being able to name the dish Crab and Crab was part of the attraction. However, I knew the combination would also taste good. Sort of a substantial salad course, made with lovely chunks of king crab legs.

The sorbet is made with crab apple that were cooked sous vide until tender and then passed through a sieve. The apple puree was mixed with sugar and a little salt. The end result is a bit more savory than a regular sorbet and, because it is made with crab apples, a little high on tannins giving the mixture a bit of a puckery mouth feel if that makes any sense. The sorbet was delicious but I cannot see it standing on it’s own, it’s definitely designed to be part of a multi-component dish.

The pepper tuile is made with isomalt, glucose and fondant. The mixture comes up to 320F temp, is poured into a sheet and allowed to cool. Then I ground it up in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. From this point on the tuile can be flavored in any number of ways with spices and sieved in an even layer and baked for a few minutes until it’s melted. It can be shaped, broken into shards or used to encase ingredients (like the pork belly here for example). As far as I know this process was pioneered by the crack team at elBulli in Spain. In this case the tuile was flavored with lots of black pepper and broken into irregular shards. It looked like glass and had a nice pepper kick. The olive oil jam, also from Alinea, is sort of a sweet cross between a custard and mayonnaise! Sounds gross, I know, but absolutely addictive. It’s made with olive oil, trimoline (invert sugar), eggs and meyer lemon juice.

Other than peeling the crab legs, I barely did anything to them. I just heated them briefly in olive oil and dressed them with a little meyer lemon juice. The basil spheres were made by mixing basil puree with calcium lactate and sugar and then freezing the mixture in ice cube trays. Before service the cubes go into a sodium alginate mixture until the outside sets and encases the sweet basil mixture. The plates were garnished with preserved meyer lemon, cut into a dice.

Needless to say I had a good bit of bits and pieces of crab other than what was served in this dish. These were sauteed with shallots, garlic and smoked paprika. Delicious on toast with a squeeze of lemon.