A shrimp cocktail appetizer recipe is one of the easiest to make at home. Anytime you are entertaining guests or asked to bring an appetizer to cocktail parties, a shrimp cocktail is a healthy appetizer to consider.
Making this shrimp cocktail recipe is so much better than buying a pre-made shrimp ring from a grocery store. The shrimp is usually rubbery and tasteless compared to what you can make at home yourself.
Shrimp Cooking Process
The best and easiest way to cook shrimp for an easy appetizer is by poaching. This ensures that your shrimp have great flavor and are cooked perfectly.
Start with a large pot. One that can easily hold 3 quarts of water. Then add some flavorings to the water.
Kosher salt – 1 tablespoon
Sugar – 1 tablespoon
Old Bay seasoning – 1 ½ tablespoon
Bay leaves – 2
Black peppercorns – 20 to 25
Bring the water to a boil and keep it at a slow boil for at least 10 minutes. This way the bay leaves and peppercorns can release their flavors.
Set a timer for 2 minutes. The poaching of the shrimp goes fast.
Once the water has boiled for 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and wait for 10 to 20 seconds for the boiling action to cease. Then add your raw shrimp and start the timer. The shrimp cooks slowly and evenly in the hot water.
The shrimp that I used was 16 – 20 per pound size. They were perfectly cooked through after 2 minutes in the hot water. You can tell that they are cooked because they will be pink and white with no gray streaks in the thickest part.
Smaller shrimp might cook faster and bigger shrimp may need an extra 30 seconds in the poaching liquid.
Once the shrimp are done, use a kitchen spider to remove them from the pot and place them onto a double layer of paper towels. (You can also pour the shrimp and water into a strainer over your sink).
I used to use a large bowl of ice water bath to cool the poached shrimp, but I stopped doing that. Since we are trying to develop sweet flavors for the shrimp, washing them off with ice water seemed counter-productive.
To cool the shrimp for eating, place them in a bowl and refrigerate them for 30 minutes or place them in your freezer for 10 minutes.
And here’s a Pro’s tip: If you like a bit of spice, the peppercorns have been softened by being boiled and are nice to bite into along with the shrimp.
What Shrimp To Use
We are using raw, uncooked larger shrimp and you can buy it several different ways.
First, if you live near the ocean you might be able to buy shrimp straight off the boats or in fresh fish markets near the water.
For most of us though, shrimp will be bought frozen. Your grocery store may sell thawed uncooked shrimp at the seafood counter which would eliminate that step for you.
I purchase frozen shrimp when it is on sale to keep in my freezer. We live close to a Fresh Thyme Market that has a sale on shrimp every month. (Fresh Thyme has 73 stores in 11 Midwest states).
I buy the 16-20 size shrimp in 2-pound bags and it is easy-peel and deveined. If you can find easy-peel shrimp, get it. It is so much easier to peel the shells off the shrimp.
You might also find some that have been peeled with the tail left on.
The best shrimp for the shrimp cocktail is jumbo shrimp up to 25 per pound. I would avoid any smaller shrimp than that.
To thaw the shrimp, place them in a saucepan and add cold tap water with a tablespoon of salt. Stir the salt around a bit and the shrimp should be defrosted in about 30 minutes.
Once they are defrosted, peel the shells off but keep the tail on. The tail gives you a nice handle to hold onto when eating the shrimp.
You may be tempted to buy pre-cooked shrimp but I don’t recommend it. The shrimp are generally rubbery and lack the delicate seafood flavor of fresh ingredients.
Best Cocktail Sauce Recipe For Shrimp
The secret to a good shrimp appetizer is to make the best homemade shrimp cocktail sauce. It has to have a good spicy tang to it with a balance of acidity. Making your own zesty shrimp cocktail sauce will spoil you and you won’t need the bottled stuff.
The ingredients in my seafood chili sauce are:
- Prepared Horseradish Sauce
- Fresh Lemon Juice
- Crystal Hot Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Lemon Zest
- Kosher Salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Give the seafood sauce a taste. You may want to add extra horseradish for a more tangy cocktail sauce.
And like many recipes, if you make this the day before, the sauce will improve as the flavors have time to meld together.
The ketchup I used was Heinz original which has corn syrup in it. I haven’t tried it but they now make sugar-free ketchup that might be a good choice for making the shrimp cocktail sauce.
What to Serve Along With Shrimp Cocktail?
The first thing that comes to mind is Salsa and Chips. That would be so much like a Mexican shrimp cocktail. Mexican cocktail is like gazpacho and avocado with chopped and whole shrimp served in martini glasses. The combination works for me. Of course, fresh lemon wedges on the side would be appropriate.
For a holiday celebration, you may like to have some more appetizer pairings.
You may like…
- A cheese board with cheddar cheese
- Gooey baked brie cheese
- Cream cheese with smoked salmon on toast
- A simple potato salad
- Cucumber appetizers with cherry tomatoes
Serve these with your favorite drinks or classic cocktails. A dry white wine or sparkling wine would be my choice.
You could also make this a light meal by serving the cocktail with a salad and some good bread.
It is best served cold and is an ideal appetizer as it can be made a day ahead and then served.
Shrimps are very low in calories and the cocktail sauce is low-cal as well so this classic shrimp cocktail is a more healthy alternative to other meats, cheeses, and bread. Making your own cocktail sauce lets you control the ingredients and sugar content.
Cooked shrimp can be kept in an airtight container in your refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. The sauce should be stored separately for up to 7 days.
Since shrimp is low in calories and high in protein, it is safe to give it to your pet. Shrimp does have a good amount of cholesterol so don’t make it a part of your dog’s regular diet.
Here are some more tasty recipes to try:
- Shrimp cocktail with pickled daikon radish
- Green goddess salad with poached shrimp
- Oven baked breaded butterfly shrimp
The Perfect Shrimp Cocktail Recipe
- 1 1/2 lbs. shrimp, 16-20 size, peeled, deveined, tail-on
- 3 qts. water
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tbsp. Old Bay Seasoning
- 20-25 black peppercorns
- 272 grams ketchup, (1 cup)
- 2 tbsp. prepared horseradish (Inglehoffer cream style)
- 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. Crystal hot sauce
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Poaching the Shrimp
- Add 3 quarts of water to a large pot and add all of the poaching ingredients and bring it to a boil. Allow to softly boil for at least 10 minutes for the flavors to develop.
- Set a timer to 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow 10 to 20 seconds for the boiling to stop, then add the raw shrimp. Start timing and let the shrimp cook for 2 minutes. Then check that the shrimp are pink and white with no gray areas which indicates that they are cooked through.
- Use a kitchen spider to remove the shrimp from the liquid and place them on a double layer of paper towels. You could also pour the water and shrimp through a stainer in your sink.
- Place the shrimp into a small bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or place in your freezer for 10 minutes to cool.
- Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Serve the shrimp and cocktail sauce cold with lemon wedges or crackers.
- Nutrition information is for 1 tablespoon of the cocktail sauce. 5 ounces of shrimp and 2 tablespoons of sauce would equal about 168 calories.
- If you have a kitchen scale, it is easy to measure the ketchup in grams. Zero the scale with the small bowl on it, turn the scale to measure grams, then add 272 grams of the ketchup. This will save you from having to use a measuring cup for the ketchup. If your scale has only ounces, then squeeze in 9.6 ounces.