Originally posted February 4, 2015. Updated June 2015. 

There are always a few special dishes I cannot wait to eat during family gatherings and holidays. During Christmas, I can’t wait to eat tamales. To celebrate the New Year, I devour a bowl of menudo. But before digging into these main courses, there are always the spread of “botanas” or appetizers to contend with. The one appetizer I cannot resist is my mom’s coctel de abulón. 

When it comes to party foods and the array of appetizer choices, most of us are familiar with shrimp cocktail. It’s a classic and (let’s face it) predictable option–kind of like onion dip. You expect it to be there, you know it’ll taste good and unless it has some amazing “secret ingredient,” it’s highly unlikely you’ll be talking to your friends about it the next day. To me, abalone cocktail is a tier above other seafood cocktails because the chewy texture combined with crunchy celery mixed into the soupy, limey, tomato based sauce makes for a salty, citrusy dish that’s bursting with flavor. It tastes similar to a traditional ceviche but safer to eat (translation: lower risk of food borne illness) because the seafood isn’t raw.

Due to overfishing in the 20th century, canned abulón from the grocery store isn’t the real thing (essentially, it’s a big sea snail), but its substitute has the same chewy consistency I love! Canned abalone is actually calamari (a squid) and I typically find it in the section of my grocery store where canned oysters, sardines and mackerel are sold. Sometimes I can only find it at my smaller, local grocer that carries a wide variety of foods imported from Mexico, but occasionally I’ve found it at my conventional store.

*FYI: For more information about abalone, I found this great May 2014 article in Food Republic featuring all sorts of interesting facts about this unique seafood.

Even though some foodies and nutrition professionals may cringe at the fact that I use canned mixed vegetables in this recipe, I like the fact that vegetables (besides fresh celery) are even in this cocktail! Not only do I like the contrast in textures from each ingredient, I think it’s a great way to amplify the presence of vegetables in a dish that could easily go without them. To cut back on sodium, I drain and rinse off the vegetables before adding them into the bowl, although the majority of the salt is coming from the cocktail juice.

Until this past Christmas holiday, my mom always made “the abulón,” but due to unfortunate circumstances, our traditional plans changed. We didn’t head down to my parent’s house in Nogales, AZ and my siblings and I pitched-in as much as we could to try and keep some normalcy to our usual holiday routine. So with lots of phone calls, lots of taste-tests and lots of guidance from Mom, I think I nailed down her abulón recipe.

This dish is great to serve at any party or gathering, and with the Lenten season just a few weeks away, it’s a perfect meat-free light lunch or dinner when served with whole grain crackers and a salad. If you’re unable to find canned abulón, try this recipe using crab meat, diced cooked shrimp or cooked fresh squid (I found this excellent how-to-cook-squid tutorial on New York Times Food!). Serve in clear glasses, small bowls or ramekins or go for a super-classy look and serve in beautiful martini glasses with a lime wedge placed on the rim!


Coctel de Abulón (Abalone Cocktail)

Recipe by Christy Wilson
Servings: 6 (recipe yields approx. 5 cups)
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 can imitation abalone, drained with about 1-2 tablespoons of salty water reserved
  • 1 can mixed vegetables, drained and rinsed
  • 2 celery stalks, diced (about 1 cup)
  • Juice from about 8 key limes
  • 5 tablespoons ketchup
  • 12 ounces Clamato Tomato Cocktail juice
  • Optional cilantro for garnish

Directions

  1. Open canned abalone and drain all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. Set reserved water aside. Cut large pieces of abalone into bite sized pieces (1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes) and place into a large bowl.
  2. Drain and rinse canned vegetables and add into the bowl with the abalone.
  3. Add diced celery, lime juice, Clamato and ketchup into the bowl. Stir all ingredients to combine. Adjust amounts of cocktail juice and fresh lime juice to flavor preference. For added flavor, add 1-2 tablespoons of salty water from canned abalone into the mixture.
  4. Ladle cocktail into clear cups and garnish with lime wedge and cilantro sprig.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it keeps for up to three days in the refrigerator, so if you're preparing this for a party, you can save yourself some time the day of your event and keep this in a sealed container ready to go when you need it. If you're setting it out for guests and it'll be out for more than 2 hours, set it inside a bowl over ice to keep the temperature out of the "danger zone," which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is set outside in warm or hot weather, it will be best to keep it inside of an insulated cooler. If set out and over ice outside, keep checking temperature periodically. 

Buen provecho! Enjoy!!
~CWN

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