Shrimp Cocktail

published Dec 20, 2023
Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

Make a classic shrimp cocktail with perfectly poached shrimp and zingy cocktail sauce.

Serves8

Prep20 minutes

Cook5 minutes to 10 minutes

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Overhead shot of cooked shrimp on ice on a large white round platter, with a small bowl of cocktail sauce in the center and some lemon wedges on the left side of the platter.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

To me, shrimp cocktail is the height of luxury — second only to its cousin, the seafood tower. I love it so much that I even have shrimp cocktail glasses (which I received as a gift). 

Shrimp cocktail is so simple and so classic that this recipe is about the details. This is the time to splurge on the extra-jumbo shrimp and to make cocktail sauce from scratch. This way, you can customize it. I like to add Japanese yuzu kosho, a fermented chili and citrus paste, for some oomph. Sambal oelek, gochujang, or your favorite chili paste would also taste great and give it your own personal touch.

How to Make Shrimp Cocktail

  • Prep the shrimp. Use kitchen shears to devein the shrimp, but keep the shells on — this flavors the shrimp, maintains their shape, and prevents the shellfish from overcooking.
  • Poach the shrimp. Bring a pot of salted water and aromatics to a boil. Remove from heat and add the shrimp until just cooked (it will only take a couple of minutes).
  • Chill the shrimp. Remove the shrimp from the poaching liquid and spread on a baking sheet to chill in the fridge until cold.
  • Make the sauce. While the shrimp cool, stir together all of the ingredients for the cocktail sauce. You can customize the sauce with the chili paste of your choice, or omit it entirely if you want to cut down on the spice.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

The Origin of Shrimp Cocktail

Cocktail sauce is a somewhat misleading name, considering it contains no alcohol. Instead, the name refers to the type of glass it is traditionally served in. Cocktail sauce rose to popularity during the prohibition era in the United States. Eateries served it in cocktail glasses because they couldn’t use the glasses for alcoholic drinks. 

Originally, the sauce was served with oysters and popularized a few decades earlier in California during the gold rush. The story goes that a miner sat down at a San Francisco bar and ordered oysters and a glass of whiskey. He kicked back the whiskey, then poured oysters and sauce into the empty glass and slurped that down as well. During the 1920s, oyster populations were dwindling and shrimp rose in popularity to take their place.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

Tips for Making Shrimp Cocktail

  • Fully chill the shrimp. Nobody wants room-temperature shrimp! Fully chill them after poaching, then serve straight from the fridge or over a bed of ice.
  • Add less heat if you’re making it ahead. If you make the cocktail sauce a few days ahead of time, the flavors have more time to mingle, causing the sauce to taste hotter. Add half of the chili paste and horseradish, then adjust with more as desired before serving.
  • Serve the right amount of shrimp. Plan for 3 to 5 shrimp per person. You can make more than the 2 pounds called for — just poach in batches as needed.
  • If you’re serving on a platter, halve the sauce. To serve shrimp in individual cocktail glasses, you’ll need the full batch of sauce to divide amongst the cups. However, if you’re serving platter-style, you can probably get away with a half batch.

Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

Make a classic shrimp cocktail with perfectly poached shrimp and zingy cocktail sauce.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the shrimp:

  • 2 pounds

    raw shell-on shrimp (extra-jumbo, 16 to 20 per pound), thawed if frozen

  • 1

    large white onion

  • 8 cups

    water

  • 2 tablespoons

    kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons

    white wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    black peppercorns

For the cocktail sauce and serving:

  • 2

    medium lemons

  • 1 1/2 cups

    ketchup

  • 2 tablespoons

    Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    prepared horseradish, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon

    vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco

  • 1 tablespoon

    yuzu kosho, sambal oelek, or other chili paste, plus more as needed (optional)

  • Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Instructions

Make the shrimp:

  1. Rinse 2 pounds raw extra-jumbo shrimp under cool water. Devein with kitchen shears, but do not peel.

  2. Peel and quarter 1 large white onion and place in a medium pot. Add 8 cups water, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon black peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and remove from the heat. Let sit until just opaque, pink, and cooked through, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

  3. Drain or remove with a slotted spoon and spread on a baking sheet in a single layer; discard the onion and peppercorns. Refrigerate until chilled through, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, make the cocktail sauce.

Make the cocktail sauce:

  1. Juice 1 of the medium lemons into a medium bowl until you have 2 tablespoons. Add 1 1/2 cups ketchup, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vinegar-based hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon yuzu kosho, sambal oelek, or other chili paste, if using. Stir to combine. Taste and add more horseradish and/or chili paste, if desired.

  2. Peel the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Halve the remaining 1 medium lemon and squeeze the juice over the shrimp. Divide the cocktail sauce between 8 martini or coupe glasses, then hang 5 shrimp over the edge of each glass. Alternatively, fill a lipped platter or shallow serving bowl with ice, then place the shrimp on the ice with a bowl of cocktail sauce alongside. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing, if desired. Set out a small bowl for discarded shrimp tails.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cocktail sauce can be made up to 1 week ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The shrimp can be cooked up to 1 day ahead, refrigerated in an airtight container, and served chilled.

Storage: Leftover shrimp and cocktail sauce can be refrigerated in separate airtight containers. The shrimp can be stored for up to 2 days, and the cocktail sauce for up to 1 week.