Shrimp Cocktail

shrimp cocktail sauce with shrimp over ice on a black plate
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Treat your houseful of revelers to the ultimate luxurious appetizer—a classic shrimp cocktail. Just don’t skimp on the cocktail sauce!  

A Perfect Shrimp Cocktail  

If we do say so ourselves! Friends, this one is really on the money. Cocktail sauce with a kick, and a generous platter of chilled jumbo shrimp—this elegant party nibble is all your guests really want. Coats will barely be off before they’re all making a beeline for the shrimp cocktail. Just add Champagne—and be sure not to run out! It’s considered an official TMP shrimp cocktail best practice to keep a LOT of chilled shrimp in the fridge to replenish the platter frequently. After all, we’re all about hospitality, and nothing says “I love you” like an endlessly-refilled platter of shrimp.

cocktail sauce in a ceramic bowl

Shrimp Cocktail Rule #1: You Must Use Homemade Cocktail Sauce 

Rumor has it that the practice of dipping seafood in cocktail sauce dates back to the late 19th century, when a diner in San Francisco dipped his oyster—the shellfish of choice at the time—in  ketchup. This tale may or may not be a tall one, but what we know for sure is that by the early 20th century, American cookbooks were filled with recipes for “oyster cocktail” and the like, which featured horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce recipes that we’d recognize today. Of course, none of them could possibly top OUR cocktail sauce recipe, which relies on a few key ingredients for a spicy kick we just adore. P.S. this isn’t a sponsored post, but we’ll go ahead and call out a few brand names where we think it matters, flavor-wise:    

  • Ketchup—a classic recipe calls for classic ketchup, so for this one, we use Heinz.  
  • Hot horseradish sauce—we love the Beaver brand. 
  • Worcestershire sauce. 
  • Dijon mustard
  • Tabasco sauce. 
  • Applesauce. According to the creator of this recipe, friend and chef Gabriel Rucker, Mott's is where its at. 
  • Lemon zest. 

How to Make Cocktail Sauce

You know this one, right? Just take all of those spicy, flavorful cocktail sauce ingredients listed above, and stir them together! But—here are a few handy tips to keep in mind before you begin your cocktail sauce making endeavor: 

  1. Ketchup flavor profiles and horseradish spiciness can vary a lot from brand to brand. So, do buy the brands we’ve called out if you want to really replicate our exact recipe.
  2. Make the cocktail sauce ahead of time—at least an hour or two, but you could even do it the night before! Store it in the fridge. This will allow the flavors to meld and marry, making it extra delicious. 
shrimp cocktail on a black platter over crushed ice

Shrimp Cocktail Rule #2: You Must Not Overcook Your Shrimp

When it comes to cooking shrimp for shrimp cocktail, the name of the game is POACH. Like all shellfish, you want to have a light touch when cooking shrimp—overdone seafood is a real bummer. Here’s how to poach shrimp so that they turn out perfectly shrimp cocktail-ready: 

  1. Boil water! Actually, boil lemon-y water—but we’ll talk more about that lemon-y poaching liquid in a sec. 
  2. Simmer down. Once the water has come to a boil, bring the heat down to a gentler simmer—poaching is a delicate art that requires a delicate simmer. 
  3. Add the shrimp, shell-on. Shrimp will retain a lot more flavor if you poach them with their shells on. You’ll peel them after they’re cooked. 
  4. Poach! A two-step process. First, simmer the shrimp gently for four minutes. Second, kill the heat and let them sit in the water for two more minutes. 
  5. Drain! Don’t rinse them, but do let them cool. And as soon as they’re cool enough to touch, peel them and devein them. 
  6. Chill! You want to get a good chill on those perfectly-poached crustaceans—at least two hours. 

Fun With Shrimp Poaching Liquid

To keep our shrimp cocktail recipe as simple and minimal as can be, we’re only calling for a single lemon in our poaching liquid. BUT. You can flavor the poaching liquid more if you’d like to! Here are a few herbs and spices that make for lovely additions to your shrimp poaching liquid: 
  • A whole onion
  • Fresh parsley
  • Celery
  • Bay leaves
  • A glug of white wine
  • Black peppercorns
  • Lemon halves
homemade cocktail sauce in a bowl along with poached shrimp over ice on a black platter with lemon wedges

How to Make Shrimp Cocktail

Forget those store-bought platters. Shrimp cocktail should be SO much better than that. Here’s how to make the best prawn cocktail your friends have ever had: 

  1. Poach shrimp! See above for everything you need to know about how to poach shrimp. 
  2. Crush ice! Spread it into a platter right before serving, as a nice, icy bed for your poached shrimp. 
  3. Make the world’s best cocktail sauce. Just a quick whisk and you’re good to go!  
  4. Party! Serve it up, and watch it disappear. 
shrimp cocktail on a black platter next to cocktail plates and napkins

Tools You’ll Need

  • Stock pot.
  • Colander.
  • Small bowl.
  • An ice crushing machine or Lewis bag and mallet would be handy, if you’ve got the kitchen real estate to devote to it, or the inclination to make shrimp cocktail often. 

3 More Party-Ready Shrimp Recipes  

Give the people what they want—SHRIMP! 

Cheers to the Best Shrimp Cocktail, Ever.  

Whether you’re serving this up on New Years Eve, as a pre-dinner party nibble, or just for a date night in, it is sure to hit the spot. Snap a photo of your perfect shrimp cocktail, and maybe even a video of the beautiful people you feed it to. Tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper. Happy eating!

Shrimp Cocktail

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup prepared hot horseradish
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Tabasco
2 tbsp apple sauce
1 tsp lemon, zest
2 lb jumbo shrimp, shells on
1 lemon, halved
lemon wedges for serving

Method

  1. At least two hours before you plan to serve the shrimp cocktail, poach the shrimp. Begin by preparing a poaching liquid. Fill a large pot—like a stock pot—with water. Squeeze the juice of the lemon halves into the water, and then add the lemon halves to the water as well. Bring the pot of water to a boil, and then turn the heat down so that the water is at a low simmer. Add the shrimp, cover the pot, and let them poach for about four minutes. Right at the four minute mark, check the shrimp for done-ness, and if they're bright pink and firm, immediately turn the heat off. Cover the pot again, and let it stand for about two minutes. Drain the shrimp. Once they've cooled enough for you to comfortably handle them, shell them and devein them. Chill for two hours before serving.
  2. In a small bowl mix together everything except the shrimp and lemon until cocktail sauce is smooth. Serve with steamed shrimp over ice with lemon wedges.