Since dishes can arrive as immigrants just like men, women and children, it is unusual that any one dish arrives in this country thanks to the fascination of only one avid cook. But, by all accounts in Texas and beyond, that’s pretty much what happened decades ago when the late-great restaurant owner Jim Goode noticed that all the eateries along the beachfront in Tampico were serving a glisteningly fresh shrimp cocktail known locally as campechana.
In those days, beginning for Goode in the 1940s, this quick bite was also sold by strolling vendors and spooned into paper cones. Considering the availability of the freshest seafood and the exchange rate for the peso, campechana must have struck Goode and other visitors to Tampico and nearby Veracruz as an almost-free gift from the gods.
A lot of things about the dish were predictable. The fact that its “cocktail sauce” blurred the line with salsa and pico de gallo made sense, since this was Mexico. As did the presence of creamy avocado. As did the fact that most patrons were scooping up the seafood cocktail with crispy-salty tortilla chips. Even the name was logical, since shrimp emerged by the boatload from that offshoot of the Gulf of Mexico known as the Bay of Campeche.
Goode knew that shrimp can come from the Gulf itself but, especially at certain times each year, moved into bays and other calmer waters, just as they did in Texas and next door in Louisiana. Indeed, they did the same in Bayou la Batre on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, where a novelist would one day set a shrimp-centric book about an unusual fellow named Forrest Gump.
As a Texas artist who launched an empire of Houston-based restaurants, Goode got famous in a hurry for a whole lot of great dishes – most of them involving beef. But he had a soft spot for the shrimp cocktail he’d tasted on that waterfront a few hundred miles to the south, and he started working on his own version of campechana.
As is often the case with food, after a certain point it was hard to tell how much he was remembering and how much he was inventing. What we do know is the dish became the most popular appetizer (or even lunch entrée) at Goode’s Company Seafood once it opened in 1986.
Clear acts of innovation on Goode’s part included the blistered chile peppers (from New Mexico, not Old), the briny added taste of chopped or sliced olives, and the upgrade involving fresh lump crabmeat. Jim Goode’s son Levi sticks closely to the recipe at the family’s restaurants to this day. It’s definitely not a formula anybody in the dining room wants him to experiment with.
Some years after first tasting campechana in Houston, we started lobbying for inclusion of a different version in a cookbook. If campechana is so terrific with shrimp and crabmeat, we wondered, wouldn’t it be as amazing or even better made with lobster meat? There was some debate about this with the chefs behind the cookbook. But eventually, the recipe for Lobster Campechana not only became a favorite in the chefs’ book but one of their restaurant’s most popular catering items.
Occasionally, since it’s so fun for guests strolling around a ballroom, they even serve the stuff in paper cones.
HOT HABANERO LOBSTER CAMPECHANA
At least once removed from the shrimp (or shrimp and crabmeat) original that made its way north from waterfront eateries in Tampico, this lobster version offers the perfect upgrade for your special occasions. The sweetness of freshly cooked Maine lobster is a delight in this spicy setting.
2 medium Anaheim), poblano, or Hatch chiles (about 6 ounces)
1/2 pound picked chunks of cooked lobster meat
½ jar Fischer & Wieser’s Hot Habanero Salsa
1/2 cup tomato–clam cocktail, such as Clamato juice
3 tablespoons chopped pitted green olives
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped oregano
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 avocado, pitted, and cubed
Tortilla chips for serving
Prepare a grill for medium-high heat or preheat broiler. If broiling, place chiles on a rimmed baking sheet. Grill, broil, or roast chiles directly over flame on stovetop, turning occasionally, until very tender and blackened all over, 10–12 minutes. Poblanos might take a little longer, so test doneness with a paring knife. Transfer chiles to a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let steam 15 minutes. Peel chiles. Halve lengthwise, discard seeds, and chop into 1/4″ pieces. Combine the chiles in the bowl with the chunks pf lobster. Add all remaining ingredients except the tortilla chips and stir until thoroughly combined. Build a base of lettuce in a bowl or sundae glass. Top generously with lobster salad. Serve with tortilla chips.
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