Learn how to make shrimp cocktail, also known as prawn cocktail. A classic appetizer that’s hard to resist!
Who can resist plump, chilled shrimp hooked on the rim of a glass or bowl, beckoning to be dipped in a spicy, tomato-based cocktail sauce? Not this editor.
I grew up eating shrimp cocktail at every New Year’s Eve or graduation party. It was THE appetizer to serve from the 1960s to the late 1980s.
Interestingly, using a cocktail glass as a serving vessel might have originated during the 1920s Prohibition era, when alcohol was banned in the United States. They had to do something with those empty glasses, right?
And guess what? Nowadays, despite all the hors d’oeuvres options, shrimp cocktail (or prawn cocktail) is still a hit at parties.
What kind of shrimp to use for shrimp cocktail
You’re going to start with raw shrimp. If you have access to fresh shrimp, great.
Otherwise, it’s perfectly fine to purchase frozen, raw shrimp. Shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico taste wonderful, if you can find them.
Shrimp is sold by its size. The bag will state approximately how many shrimp per pound are included in each package.
You’re going to want at least 26/30, which means 26-to-30 shrimp per pound. But a bag of 16/20 will contain jumbo shrimp, which are even more awesome.
Shells on or off?
There are two schools of thought here. Some say it’s best to buy shrimp with shells on and leave them unpeeled while cooking, to impart flavor.
But someone still needs to peel and devein the shrimp before eating them. (That dark “vein” is the digestive tract.)
I prefer the convenience of buying peeled and deveined shrimp in the first place. Do what works for you.
How to make shrimp cocktail
- If starting with frozen shrimp, thaw them by placing the shrimp in the refrigerator overnight or by running cold water over them in a colander.
- Check for dark veins (even if you bought deveined shrimp) and remove them with a shrimp tool or tweezers. If you’re using shrimp with the shells on, you’ll need to cut along the curve of the shrimp with a paring knife to get access to the vein and remove it.
- Rinse your shrimp.
- Cook your shrimp by steaming or roasting it. Or, you can boil the shrimp it in a pot of water with seasonings, lemon, and perhaps garlic.
- Drain your shrimp, if needed, and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water to cool for a couple minutes. Drain the shrimp and refrigerate them until serving time.
You can use store-bought cocktail sauce, but homemade cocktail sauce will elevate your appetizer to a new level of delicious. Start with a base of ketchup or chili sauce and add some spicy heat with horseradish, hot sauce or both!
How to serve shrimp cocktail
Keep in mind the shrimp can stay out of the refrigerator for just two hours. Serve shrimp cocktail chilled, with tails on, and lemon wedges on the side. Here are some options:
- Hook the shrimp on the rims of cocktail glasses with cocktail sauce in the middle.
- Place a small bowl of cocktail sauce in the center of a large serving bowl, with shrimp placed around the rim.
- Arrange shrimp in a circular pattern in a round platter over ice, with cocktail sauce in the center.
How long to store shrimp cocktail
- Store cooked shrimp in the coolest part of your refrigerator for up to four days.
- Discard leftover cocktail sauce that came into contact with the shrimp within four days.
- Store extra homemade cocktail sauce in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Refrigerate store-bought cocktail sauce for six months.