Have you ever had shrimp cocktail in a restaurant and wondered why it's so much better than the rings from grocery stores or what you made at home? Today I'm going to show you all the secrets to making the BEST Shrimp Cocktail and Cocktail Sauce at home.
What kind of shrimp to use for homemade shrimp cocktail?
There are a shocking number of options for shrimp at the seafood counter and in the frozen isle. I look for raw, white shrimp. I also like to use a Jumbo to Colossal sized shrimp.
How do shrimp sizes work?
This used to confuse the heck out of me when I was shopping, but I've since learned their secrets. Shrimp are categorized two different ways, which should mean the same thing but unfortunately not everyone uses the same standard size names for the same size shrimp (Publix's definition of Large shrimp is VERY different than my personal one).
This guide is roughly accurate to industry standards, but due to brand variations, I highly recommend you purchase shrimp based on number of shrimp per pound and NOT size name.
To help you read this chart, here are some examples:
Super Colossal shrimp are U/12. This means that UNDER 12 shrimp must weigh at least a pound.
Jumbo Shrimp ( 21/25 ) - between 21 and 25 of these shrimp make up a pound
|Shrimp Size/Name||Number of Shrimp |
|Extra Small / Tiny||61/70|
How to pick out shrimp for perfect shrimp cocktail
You want defrosted or fresh shrimp, raw either way. Make sure the shrimp do not have any tears in them and still have their tails attached. If you are buying from a seafood counter, mention to the fishmonger that you are using the shrimp for cocktail, and they will usually pick out some pretty ones for you.
Is it okay to use frozen shrimp?
Yep. It sure is! In fact, the shrimp you are buying from the "fresh" seafood counter probably came in frozen! If you have access to fresh shrimp, I say support your local fishermen and buy it! But if not, frozen shrimp will do just fine. You will need to defrost them first though.
How do I defrost shrimp?
Shrimp are one of the easiest proteins to defrost. You can place frozen shrimp in a covered bowl in your fridge overnight, and VOILA! Defrosted shrimp in the morning.
You can also place them in a large bowl in the sink, and stream cold water into the bowl from the kitchen faucet for about 15 to 30 minutes.
How to devein / clean shrimp
Easily the worst part of making any shrimp dish: the deveining. First, make sure you peel the shrimp, removing the legs and body shell but leaving the tails on. This is fairly easy since the tail shell is much stronger than the shell of the rest of the shrimp, so you can rip off the legs and peel off the body shell right up until the tail shell without worrying about tearing the entire thing apart.
To devein, place the shrimp on a flat surface. Use a paring knife, or if you have one, a shrimp knife, score the back part of the shrimp - aka the part opposite of where the legs were. This will expose the innards of the shrimp. Simply take your finger and pull it out. Once you have deveined all the shrimp, give them a rinse to get any residue from the deveining off.
How to cook shrimp for the best shrimp cocktail
Cooking shrimp is fast business - so make sure you are at the ready! Fill a large pot with water and aromatics like lemon, peppercorns, bay leaves, etc. (scroll down to the recipe to see what I prefer.) . Then drop in peeled, deveined, tail-on shrimp.
How to make cocktail sauce
Mix ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and lemon juice. Let it sit for at least an hour for the flavors to combine. I like my homemade cocktail sauce to have quite a bit of kick - so start with the recipe as written but feel free to add an extra dash of hot sauce or dollop of horseradish.
How to serve shrimp cocktail
For a small group, fill a martini glass with cocktail sauce and line up the shrimp around the edge of a glass, hooking them along the rim.You can easily set up multiple martini glasses of shrimp for an impressive display!
For a larger group, fill a serving bowl with ice. Nestle a bowl or two of cocktail sauce in the ice. Scatter shrimp over the ice, and garnish with a layer of cut parsley and lemon. Be sure to place the ice bowl on something waterproof, like a sheet pan or several thick towels with a plastic bag beneath them to protect your table.
Make sure you leave a small bowl for discarded tails!
How to eat tail-on shrimp
There is a trick! And if you do it wrong, my mother will judge you heavily and openly, so best get it right. When eating tail-on shrimp, you don't want to leave any meat behind! How do you get that last precious bite of meat out of the tail without looking like an animal or busting out a utensil?
Firmly grasp the tail between two fingers, partially holding the fanned out part of the tail, partially holding the shell containing the meat. As you bite into the meaty part of the shrimp, pinch and twist with your fingers while you bite and pull with your mouth. BOOM! You'll get the entire shrimp! Bonus: you'll have the smug satisfaction of looking like a well seasoned shrimp eater.
Other Shrimp Recipes
- Shrimp Angel Hair with Spinach and Blistered Tomatoes
- Bacon Wrapped Bourbon Glazed Shrimp
- Pickled Shrimp
- Greek Shrimp with Feta
Shrimp Cocktail with Cocktail Sauce
- 1 cup ketchup about 10 ounces
- 2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 pound Extra Jumbo shrimp 16 to 20 shrimp per pound
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon salt
- One lemon cut in half
- 10 to 15 stems of parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ large onion
- 8 cups water
- large bowl of ice water
- In a small bowl, stir to combine all ingredients for the Cocktail Sauce. Set aside while making the shrimp cocktail, or make up to a week in advance and store covered in the fridge.
- In a large pot, combine all ingredients for the Shrimp Cocktail except for the shrimp and the ice. Bring the water to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon as quickly as possible, placing the cooked shrimp in the bowl of ice water. Let the shrimp rest in the ice bath until they have cooled down. Serve with cocktail sauce!