Shrimp Cocktail

Big, plump, perfectly-cooked shrimp with a lemony, horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce

Shrimp cocktail might be retro, but when done right, this party staple is never out of style. Adapted from Bon Appetit, this classic version boasts big, plump, perfectly-cooked shrimp with a lemony, horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce. It’s incredibly easy to make and rivals the shrimp cocktail served at the finest restaurants and steakhouses. The key is to use jumbo shell-on shrimp and be careful not to overcook them. You want to have a timer and an ice bath ready before you start cooking; the shrimp cook in exactly 3-1/2 minutes, and they need to be plunged into cold water immediately after poaching to stop the cooking process.

What You’ll Need To Make Shrimp Cocktail

shrimp cocktail ingredients

As with all of my shrimp recipes, I recommend buying frozen shrimp. Most shrimp are cleaned and flash-frozen shortly after being caught. Unless you live on the coast, the “fresh” shrimp you see in the seafood case is typically thawed frozen shrimp. Who knows how long it’s been sitting there, so you’re better off buying frozen and defrosting it yourself.

Shrimp have a dark vein running along their backs, which needs to be removed. It’s a bit tedious to do yourself, so look for shrimp labeled “shell split and deveined.” (If you need to do it yourself, use kitchen shears to cut through the shell along the back of the shrimp, from the head to the tail, then use a small paring knife to lift out the vein.)

Finally, be sure to buy raw shrimp instead of pre-cooked. This may sound obvious but it is a very common mistake, and cooking shrimp twice will result in very tough shrimp.

Step-by-Step Instructions

In a medium pot, combine the salt, sugar, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water and set next to the sink.
bringing water, salt and sugar to a boil

Add the shrimp to the boiling water mixture.

adding shrimp to boiling water

Cook for exactly 3-1/2 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and opaque. The cooking time is specific for jumbo 16-20 shrimp (“16-20” refers to the number/range of shrimp that size that you’ll get in a pound). If using different size shrimp, follow these guidelines: for 26-30, poach 1-1/2 minutes; for 21-25, poach 2 minutes; for 13-15, poach 4 minutes.

pink cooked shrimp

Drain the shrimp in a colander and then immediately plunge them into the ice water to shock them and stop the cooking process. Let sit until chilled, about 15 minutes.

shrimp in ice bath

Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the ketchup, horseradish, lemon zest and juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

making shrimp cocktail sauce

Peel the shrimp, leaving just the tails attached. Transfer to a platter filled with crushed ice, if using, and serve with cocktail sauce on the side.

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Shrimp Cocktail

Big, plump, perfectly-cooked shrimp with a lemony, horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce

Ingredients

For the Shrimp

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 pounds 16-20 shell-on shrimp, deveined, thawed if frozen (see note)

For the Cocktail Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1/2 teaspoon (packed) lemon zest, from one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • A few dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste

For Serving (Optional)

  • Crushed ice

Instructions

  1. In a medium pot, combine the salt, sugar, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water and set next to the sink.
  3. Add the shrimp to the boiling water mixture and cook for exactly 3-1/2 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and opaque. The water will not really return to a boil once you add the shrimp; that’s okay.
  4. Drain the shrimp in a colander and then immediately plunge them into the ice water to shock them and stop the cooking process. Let sit until chilled, about 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the ketchup, horseradish, lemon zest and juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  6. Peel the shrimp, leaving just the tails attached. Transfer to a platter filled with crushed ice, if using, and serve with cocktail sauce on the side.
  7. Note: “16-20” refers to the number/range of shrimp that size you’ll get in a pound. Look for shell-on shrimp that are already deveined; it can be labeled Easy Peel, Simple Peel, or Shell Split and Deveined. If you can’t find it and need to remove the black vein yourself, use kitchen shears to cut through the shell along the back of the shrimp, from the head to the tail, then use a small paring knife to lift out the vein. If using different size shrimp, follow these guidelines for cooking: for 26-30 shrimp, poach 1-1/2 minutes; for 21-25 shrimp, poach 2 minutes; for 13-15 shrimp, poach 4 minutes.
  8. Make-Ahead Instructions: The cocktail sauce can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated. The shrimp can be cooked a day ahead and served cold.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you’re following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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