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Campechana, Grilled Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

by Brad Prose

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Bright, tangy, and bursting with a fiesta of texture, Campechana will instantly transport you to a beach state of mind. This easy and delicious grilled Mexican shrimp cocktail will have you popping open an icy cerveza and kicking back to chill. Each bite is loaded with avocado, cucumber, tomatoes, shrimp, and much more. Grab some chips and dive in!

Campechana is the ultimate Mexican shrimp cocktail

Whether you’re looking for the perfect game-day snack or something to serve with your carne asada as an effortless appetizer, this bold Mexican classic will have you double dipping.

Combining the fresh and vibrant flavors of gazpacho with the kick of a Michelada this saucy and sassy shrimp recipe will make it feel like summer all year long.

These grilled Mexican shrimp basking in their zesty and piquant cocktail sauce should come with a warning. Once you not only taste them but discover how easy they are to make, they will become your new crave-worthy addiction.

You’ll be the hero if you serve these alongside a plate of Carne Asada, Pork Belly Carnitas, or with Chipotle Skirt Steak Fajitas.

Tajin-marinated shrimp line the glass.

Why You’ll Love Campechana

  • Easy Process – This campechana recipe can be broken down into four easy parts. Grill, chop, mix, and serve. The most time-consuming portion of creating this dish is chopping all of the garden-fresh vegetables. 
  • Meal Prep – Portions of this recipe can be prepared ahead of time making it ideal for not only meal prep, but also party prep. Need a dish to take to your next game day tailgating? This travels well and can be made ahead of time. 
  • An explosion of textures and flavor – Grilling the shrimp for this recipe adds both additional texture and also that layer of flavor from the fire. Just like breaking into a pinata for an explosion of colors, biting into campechana combines fresh, crisp produce with succulent grilled shrimp and a sauce begging to be dipped, topped, and devoured. It’s a full sensory experience. 
  • Customizability – This recipe is great on its own, but also a roadmap for you to explore adding your own additions and coming up with your favorite ways to serve it.
Campechana piled on top of a tostada

Ingredients You’ll Need

This recipe combines pantry staples that you probably already have with easily accessible fresh ingredients. 

  • Shrimp – There’s no need to invest in colossal shrimp for this recipe as they are going to be chopped before being added to the sauce. Medium-sized shrimp are just the right size for easy grilling. Fresh is always best, but if using frozen, allow them to defrost overnight in your refrigerator for the best texture.
  • Limes – Tangy, bright, with a burst of sunshine, lime juice gets used three ways. First for the marinade, then for adding an acidic pop to the sauce, and finally for serving. 
  • Tajin Seasoning – Salt, dried chiles, and dehydrated lime juice come together for an easy one-two shake to season your grilled shrimp. 
  • Neutral Oil – Use your favorite. Avocado oil, canola, and vegetable oil are all good options. It gets used in both the marinade for the shrimp and also to add a little silkiness to the Mexican cocktail sauce. 
  • Anaheim Chiles – These mild chile peppers take on a fruity, smoky flavor once charred. They add flavor without adding any additional spice. 
  • Clamato Juice – This savory tomato-based beverage combines tomato juice, clam broth, and spices. Feel free to use the regular or spicy version. And since you already have it open, go ahead and make a Michelada!
  • Ketchup – Yes, ketchup. This traditional ingredient in Mexican shrimp cocktails adds sweetness to balance the acidic flavors while also giving the sauce a little body and viscosity. 
  • Cilantro – Verdant, herbaceous, and a little citrusy, cilantro adds fresh flavor to every bite. 
  • Mexican Hot Sauce – Mexican-style hot sauces usually have more chile flavor than vinegar. Use one of your favorites such as Valentina, Tapatio, Cholula, or El Yucateco
  • Jugo Maggi – This concentrated seasoning sauce adds instant umami. 
  • Black Pepper – Adds a sharp kick of heat, but also earthiness. 
  • Roma Tomato – Less acidic and drier than other types of tomatoes, Roma tomatoes are also easy to find year-round. This adds a fresh tomato flavor that compliments the Clamato and ketchup. 
  • Jalapeno – Adds fresh heat, but you can control the spice by removing the ribs and seeds. 
  • English Cucumber – Bright, clean, and irresistibly crunchy and refreshing, this thin-skinned and less seedy variety offers up a bold texture. 
  • Red Onion – A little pungent, crunchy, and with its bold color, red onions tantalize all of the senses.
  • Avocado – Rich, creamy, and soft, this adds both textures to every bite and also delicate flavor. 
Marinate shrimp with Tajin, lime juice, and oil.

How to Make Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

This campechana recipe is for grilled shrimp. While most versions use poached shrimp, grilled shrimp adds both additional flavor and texture. Plus you’re already firing up your grill to roast your Anaheim chiles, you might as well throw some shrimp on the barbie as well.

Step 1: Marinade the Shrimp

Peel and devein your shrimp. Feel free to leave some of the tails on your shrimp to reserve them for garnishing your glasses. Mix together the ingredients for your marinade in a plastic bag and add your shrimp. Allow them to marinate while you prepare your grill. 

Step 2: Fire up the Grill

Whether you are using a gas grill or charcoal grill, prepare your grill for direct grilling. Make sure your grates are clean

Step 3: Skewer the Shrimp

Remove your shrimp from the marinade and pat them dry. Thread them onto your skewers, piercing them twice to make sure they remain flat and don’t spin when flipping. 

Anaheim chiles are grilled to char the skins before peeling and dicing.

Step 4: Grill the Chiles and Shrimp

Place your Anaheim chiles onto the grates. Allow them to char, turning them every couple of minutes. Remove them from the grill and place them into a plastic bag, closing it so they can steam while you grill the shrimp.

Place your shrimp skewers over direct heat. Allow the first side to grill 2-3 minutes, or until you see the side start to turn opaque. Flip them and grill them for another 2-3 minutes. Don’t focus on getting grill marks. They should be around 120°F and feel slightly firm, but with a little spring. Remove the shrimp from the skewers and allow them to cool. 

Marinated shrimp is skewered and grilled.

Step 5: Chop up the Veggies

While your peppers and shrimp are cooling, chop up your vegetables. Take the roasted chiles out of the bag and remove their skins, stems, and seeds and give them a chop. Finally, chop your cooled shrimp into bite-sized pieces, but reserve the ones with tails for garnish. 

Step 6: Mix and Chill

Add your Clamato juice, hot sauce, Jugo Maggi, lime juice, oil, and black pepper to a bowl and give it a good mix. Taste the base of your sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed. Want it a little sweeter? Add a little more ketchup. Have a need for heat, give it an extra splash of hot sauce. Fold in your remaining ingredients. If making this well in advance, hold off adding your avocados, shrimp, and cilantro.

Mix and chill the ingredients together with the sauce before serving.

This fresh and vibrant dish is best served chilled. Allow the mixture to hang out in the fridge for at least half an hour.

You’re Done… Serve it Up!

Part of what makes a Campechana so fun is how it’s served. Martini or margarita glasses work, as well as schooner beer glasses or even soda fountain glasses. Just add a pile of tortilla chips for dipping and lime wedges and the reserved whole grilled Mexican shrimp to garnish!

Huge margarita glasses are common for serving this appetizer.

How to Serve Campechana

While it’s totally acceptable and encouraged to just dig into your glass with a spoon, part of the fun and festivity of eating Mexican-style shrimp cocktail is how it’s served. Here are a few suggestions on the perfect crunchy sidekicks for dipping, dunking, topping, and shoveling:

  • Tortilla Chips
  • Tostadas
  • Saltine Crackers
  • Tostones
  • Chicharrones
  • Plantain or Cassava Chips
Serve the campechana on tostadas for a fun presentation.

Variations

There are as many variations for what you can add to your grilled Mexican shrimp cocktail as there are shrimp in the sea. Have fun mixing and matching to create your ideal flavor and texture mashup. 

  • Green Olives – Adds a pop of salty brine. 
  • Smoked Pickled JalapenosEcho the layer of smoke in the grilled shrimp and Anaheim peppers while also adding a bright and acidic pop.
  • Green Bell Pepper –  For a slightly bitter note, add diced green bell pepper. 
  • Lump Crab Meat – Swap out some of the chopped shrimp for sweet and delicate lump crab meat. Make sure to add this just before serving. 
  • Celery – For even more of a bright crunch, toss in some diced celery. 
  • Poached or Boiled Shrimp –  When the craving hits but you don’t have time to fire up the grill, boiled shrimp can be used. 
  • Sweet Onion – For a more mild onion flavor that still delivers crunch, swap out the red onion for diced sweet onion.
  • Jicama – Add diced jicama for the ultimate crunch factor and a hint of sweetness. 
  • Orange Soda – For an extra layer of sweetness, add a splash of orange soda to your sauce. It’s traditional to use Jarritos Mandarina.
  • Orange Juice – Similar to orange soda, this adds sweetness, but in a fresh and bright way. 
  • Worcestershire Sauce – no Jugo Maggi? No problem. While the flavors aren’t quite the same Worcestershire sauce will add that depth of umami. 
  • Garlic –  For extra pow and pop, toss in a couple of minced garlic cloves.
  • V8 Juice –  Swap the Clamato juice for V8. Just like the Clamato, you can use either the regular or spicy versions. V8 will add a little more sweetness than the Clamato.
Grilling the shrimp on metal skewers is highly recommended.

While this recipe for Campechana utilizes the texture and flavor of grilled shrimp, it can be made with poached shrimp. Feel free to take the shortcut from the grocery store and buy already poached shrimp from the seafood counter, or follow these tips for poaching it yourself.

How to Poach Shrimp

  1. Defrost – If using frozen shrimp, allow it to fully defrost before poaching. The best way to do this is by allowing it to gently defrost in the refrigerator overnight. If in a time crunch, you can add them to a colander and run cool water over them for five minutes. You can also leave all of the tails on as the shells will add additional flavor to the liquid when cooking them. 
  2. Boil – Bring a pot of water or even beer to a boil over medium heat. You don’t need a lot of liquid to poach shrimp. Shrimp only need to be covered by one to two inches. 
  3. Flavor – You can keep it simple and add a teaspoon of salt, or use similar flavors to the Mexican shrimp cocktail. Tajin and halved limes are great options. Let the seasoning dissolve to flavor the water before adding the shrimp. 
  4. Simmer – Gently add your shrimp into the hot water. They will cool the boiling water down to a simmer. Continue to stir the shrimp, helping to keep the heat down, and gently cook the shrimp. As soon as they begin to turn pink, opaque, and just begin to form a C-shape remove them from the water. They should be 120°F internal temperature. 
  5. Cool – Place the shrimp on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and allow them to refrigerate until completely cool.
We love to serve campechana with piles of corn chips.

Tips and Tricks for Campechana

  • Fresh shrimp is always best, but frozen shrimp works as well. Always look for either sustainably sourced or responsibly raised shrimp and when buying frozen shrimp, you want minimal ingredients that are free of artificial preservatives.
  • If using frozen shrimp, allow yourself time for it to defrost overnight. This will give you the best texture once it’s cooked.
  • Temperature matters. There is nothing worse than an overcooked rubbery shrimp. Always aim for 120°F and know when to remove your shrimp from the heat. They should be just pink, opaque, and beginning to form a C-shape. They should also be firm to the touch but with a little spring.
  • Taste your sauce before adding in the vegetables and shrimp. This is the base of your dish so adjust accordingly.
  • The sauce can be prepared ahead of time, but if you plan on serving this later in the day hold off adding your shrimp, avocado, and cilantro until just before serving.
  • Metal skewers work best for shrimp, helping to cook them inside and out at an even heat. However, if using wooden skewers make sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes prior to making your skewers.
I'm going to start with the tail-on shrimp around the rim of the glass.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Campechana?

This saucy shrimp recipe is often referred to as Mexican shrimp cocktail, Mexican-style shrimp cocktail, coctel de camerones, and coctel mariscos when additional seafood is added.

Do I have to grill the shrimp?

No. You can poach your own shrimp, or buy already cooked shrimp for a faster version of this recipe. Refer above to tips on poaching shrimp.

How long can I store this dish for?

Because the acids in the sauce will begin to break down the shrimp and change their texture, you want to serve this within a couple of hours to 24 hours.

Can I make the sauce ahead of time?

The sauce portion of this shrimp cocktail can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to stir in the shrimp and vegetables.

What size shrimp should I use for a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail?

Because most of the shrimp gets chopped into bite-sized pieces, medium shrimp work well for this recipe. They’re large enough to skewer for grilling without having to invest in colossal shrimp that will just be cut up.

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Campechana is the ultimate Mexican shrimp cocktail

Campechana, Grilled Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

Bright, tangy, and bursting with a fiesta of texture, Campechana will instantly transport you to a beach state of mind. This easy and delicious grilled Mexican shrimp cocktail will have you popping open an icy cerveza and kicking back to chill. Each bite is loaded with avocado, cucumber, tomatoes, shrimp, and much more.

  • Total Time: 60 minutes
  • Yield: Serves about 5-6 1x

Ingredients

Scale

Equipment

  • Flat metal skewers

Ingredients

  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons Tajin seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 Anaheim chiles
  • 1 cup Clamato juice (regular or spicy)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoon Mexican hot sauce (such as Tapatio or Cholula)
  • 1 teaspoon Jugo Maggi
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 medium Roma tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
  • ¼ cup English cucumber, diced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 1 avocado, pitted and cubed
  • Lime wedges (for serving)
  • Tortilla chips (for serving)

Instructions

  1. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat for direct grilling.
  2. Clean the shrimp and remove the shells. Leave some of the tails on if desired, to garnish the top of the glass for serving.
  3. Mix together the lime juice, Tajin seasoning, and vegetable oil together in a resealable plastic bag. Add in the cleaned shrimp to the marinade. Squeeze out the excess air and mix the shrimp around. Allow the shrimp to marinade for about 20 minutes until the coals are ready to grill.
  4. Place the Anaheim chiles directly over the coals on the grill, allowing them to blister the skin. Flip them every few minutes until they are almost charred, and place them in a plastic container or bag. Allow them to steam while the shrimp is grilling.
  5. Prepare the skewers. Drain the marinade from the shrimp and lightly pat them dry with paper towels. Thread a shrimp onto the skewer, piercing twice to secure it in place. Do this for the rest of the shrimp.
  6. Clean the grill grates. Place the skewers on the grill directly above the coals, and allow the shrimp to sear for about 2-3 minutes. Flip, and grill for another 2-3 minutes until the shrimp are done, around 120°F internal temperature. The shrimp will be opaque and start to firm up.
  7. Remove the shrimp from the skewers and allow them to rest. Chop up the shrimp into bite-sized pieces, except for the ones you’ll use for garnish.
  8. Take the roasted chiles out of the bag and peel off the skins. Remove the stem and seeds, and dice up the chiles.
  9. In a large bowl, whisk together the Clamato juice, ketchup, lime juice, vegetable oil, hot sauce, Jugo Maggi, and black pepper. This is the base of the cocktail sauce, so adjust the flavors as you desire.
  10. Fold in the chopped shrimp, chopped chiles, tomato, jalapeno, cucumber, red onion, and avocado. Taste the campechano for seasoning and adjust with salt as needed. This dish is best served chilled with tortilla chips.

Notes

  • Grill the shrimp to temperature, do not focus on trying to get grill marks.
  • Read the notes in the article for lots of variations with ingredients.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Marinating Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 minutes
  • Category: Seafood
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Appetizer

Keywords: campechana, grilled shrimp, shrimp cocktail, Mexican shrimp cocktail, poached shrimp, seafood appetizer

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