Campechana

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I had a favorite menu item at our local country club’s restaurant that sadly disappeared when the chef moved on. It was campechana – a combination of shrimp and avocados in a zesty tomato sauce, served chilled with tortilla chips.

Never did I realize it was an actual “thing” until I googled it. Turns out, recipes for campechana are commonplace! By definition, it’s a seafood cocktail from Campeche, a coastal state in Mexico.

I immediately grabbed one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, published in 2000, and if you look closely at the cover photo, there is the shrimp cocktail!!!

I have a soft spot for Rick Bayless for many reasons. He’s a passionate chef and student of Mexican cookery, who been married to his wife forever, with whom he’s collaborated on books. (As well as with their daughter!) So I respect that. He also does a lot of charitable work in Chicago and in Mexico and is a total nerd.

But mostly for this.

Fifteen years ago I took my daughter to Chicago for her 18th birthday. It was all about shopping, visiting the sites, and enjoying great meals. I had made reservations at Frontera, and Charlie Trotter’s for our two big nights out.

At Frontera, which was outstanding in every way, I saw that Rick Bayless himself was in the kitchen, and asked if we could say hello. And he was kind and took this memorable photo with Emma.

I decided to make the shrimp cocktail recipe that’s pictured on the book cover. It’s not called campechana but a ceviche, which seems odd because it doesn’t fit my definition of ceviche. But Mr. B. Knows his stuff, so I will not quibble.

Ceviche de Camaron
4 hefty servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound smallish shrimp, peeled, de-veined
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes.

Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.


In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid.

Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado.

Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime.

Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside.

The ceviche is best made the day it is served.

If you want a more Southwestern-inspired Campechana, I found one on Epicurious that I’m trying next. It has roasted green chiles and includes crab meat!

So what I’ve gathered, whether it’s called Campechana, or a seafood cocktail, or a ceviche-style shrimp cocktail, the basic ingredients are similar, being shrimp and avocado in (typically) a red sauce. And from there you can get as spicy and zingy and creative as you wish!

The campechana I remember had no cucumber or jicama, but they added a great texture.

The only other difference I can detect from my campechana that I loved and this and other similar shrimp cocktail recipe is the amount of red sauce and the viscosity of the red sauce. I have to say I prefer a bit more sauciness than what’s in this recipe.

Cajeta Crêpes

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I’ve only had cajeta crêpes at one restaurant, and that restaurant is Javier’s, in Dallas, Texas. They’re so good we keep ordering them when we’re lucky enough to go there, even when we’ve overeaten after appetizers and dinner. And we’re not even dessert people!

They’re very simply prepared and served – crêpes folded in quarters, topped with cajeta*, which is essentially caramel made from goat’s milk.

I’ve been going to Javier’s since shortly after I moved to Dallas, which was in 1978, for my first job. It was the first time I learned about cajeta. But it was in the book, New Southwestern Cooking, by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger, where I saw the first recipe for cajeta. The book was published in 1985, and I still reference it.
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However, their recipe is involved, and I’m not sure why. Cajeta is simply the reduction of goat’s milk with sugar. But in their recipe, some of the sugar is caramelized first, and then added to the milk, which is a combination of goat and cow milk. Plus, their recipe includes cornstarch and baking soda. Maybe I’ll try it one day.

But for now, here’s my version of cajeta. Just like many of the best recipes, this dessert is so simple, yet so perfect.

Cajeta Crêpes

1 dozen prepared crêpes
24 ounces (2 – 12 ounce cans) goat’s milk
3/4 cup sugar

Combine the goat’s milk and sugar in a medium-sized enamel pot. Stir well, then turn on the heat and simmer over the lowest possible heat. It will take about 1 1/2 hours to complete.
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Continue stirring with a rubber spatula throughout this process, scraping down the sides of the pot occasionally. A whisk isn’t necessary, because any cajeta that is scraped off of the pot sides gets remelted into the bulk of the hot cajeta.
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You can see the goat’s milk and sugar mixture get darker and thicker as it reduces, until it’s ready to use. The cajeta should be still a little thin when it’s hot, but it will thicken as it cools slightly.
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Have the prepared crêpes on the serving plate, and drizzle the warm cajeta over them.

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Serve these crêpes warm or at room temperature.
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They would also be good with some whipped cream, but it’s totally unnecessary to me.

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*It’s really hard to decipher the difference between cajeta and dulce de leche. The very similar product is made in Spain, Mexico, and in many South American countries. Sometimes it’s only from cow’s milk, sometimes only goat’s milk, and sometimes a blend of both. I’m sure they’re all good, but I like my cajeta from pure goat’s milk!

note: This recipe can be doubled or tripled. I just didn’t want to make a huge batch. This recipe made almost 1 1/2 cups.
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