The Perfect Mexican Seafood Cocktail
Developing a particular taste for a restaurant, one that could be named a favorite, is much like finding oneself with an unexpected, but quickly loved new member of the family. It will be part of celebrations, a birthday lunch with a dear friend over oysters and cold Tecates; it will be the place where those less-stellar moments in life will be slowly forgotten over fresh coconuts stuffed with chilled seafood and sips of more cold Tecates. Colds will be treated with steaming-hot seafood broth and chile-spiked Vampiros, a concoction of hot sauce, orange juice, grapefruit soda and tequila. A favorite restaurant is so much like a family member that to refer to it as ‘it,’ to have it be only a thing seems far too impersonal and unappreciative of the service it offers.
My own particular favorite restaurant is El Pacifico in midtown Phoenix, a seafood joint as you may have guessed, could be called non-descript, but only because of it’s setting; just another small, family-owned Mexican restaurant on a street filled with them. The building clearly advertises it’s intention at the parking lot, a dark red wall with aqua colored words spelling the description: Mexican Seafood. Stepping inside, past the small time warp of keeping the interior firmly in the late 1980s, the bright, airy and surprisingly beachy (perhaps because of its warmth) dining room will likely be nearly empty. Probably just some regulars, drinking Coronas Familiares, the large brown bottles kept cold in ice buckets, a working man’s champagne taking up room on the small sea-blue laminate tables.
That the food is stellar here goes without a doubt, as long as the non-seafood items are avoided; but it is the overall comfort the setting provides: the bright colors, the football on TV (pardon, the soccer), the fact that a dozen fresh Pacific oysters can be had for less than $20, the friendly yet also utterly impersonal service – besides the food, this is what keeps bringing me back. My needs will be amply met, my beer never empty for noticeably long, my stomach never left empty, but I always have the distinct feeling that I am barely noticed, by the server or by the other customers. We are all perhaps too occupied to notice each other enjoying the comfort of a restaurant that provides a quiet and bright solace from a loud and harsh world.
El Pacifico, located at 3311 N. 16th Street (just south of Osborn Road) in Phoenix.
Seafood Cocktail in Fresh Coconut
This recipe is based on the fantastic seafood dishes from El Pacifico, located at 3311 N. 16th Street, in Phoenix. It is well worth the visit for the mixed seafood cocktails, the prepared oysters, or blood clams.
Be sure to use tender young coconuts for this recipe. Cracking them open is perhaps the most enjoyable, yet slightly terrifying part of the recipe. A cleaver, or other similar heavy knife, works well, and is less likely to remove a finger or two, as the traditional machete is more likely to do. Hold the coconut firmly in one hand, and place the cleaver on coconut’s top where the first cut is intended. Lift both the coconut and the cleaver, and bring both down hard onto a sturdy surface. Dig the cleaver out, rotate and repeat until a large enough hole has been cut out to comfortable eat out of. The coconut may be omitted from this recipe.
For the cocktail:
4 fresh young coconuts
1 pound large headless shrimp
½ pound cooked octopus
1 dozen oysters, shucked, liquor reserved
1 large tomato, medium diced
1 cucumber, medium diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 serrano, finely chopped
1 avocado, thinly sliced
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of fresh limes to taste
Sea salt to taste
To cook the shrimp:
1 gallon water
1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Clean the shrimp, keeping the shells on, and removing the vein. Place the water and aromatics, squeezing the limes into the water and adding them as well, in a large pot bringing to a rolling boil. After 5 minutes, add the shrimp, stirring well. Cook the shrimp only half-way. This can be checked by cutting into one along the vein line. The center should still be raw. This should take less than two minutes. Remove the water from the heat, and allow the shrimp to cool slightly in the water for an additional two minutes. Drain, and allow to cool until able to peel and cut the shrimp into thirds.
Drain the water from the coconuts, reserving the liquid. Scrape the flesh from the walls with a spoon, pulling as much as possible. Mix the seafood, tomato, cucumber, onions, serrano and cilantro in a bowl, seasoning with lime juice and salt to taste. Divide evenly into the four coconuts, mixing with the coconut flesh adding enough of the reserved coconut water to just cover the mixture. Garnish with sliced avocado.
Serve with tostadas, or saltines on the side, with the remaining coconut water well chilled.