Friday, February 19, 2010

All-American Shrimp Cocktail – Jumbo Shrimp is Not an Oxymoron

Before I knew much about food or dining out, I knew that if they brought shrimp cocktails to the table as an appetizer, we were eating at a "fancy" restaurant. I'm sure I enjoyed the shrimp, but what I really loved was dipping the crackers in the spicy, horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce.

As I got older, I started to notice that while all shrimp cocktails pretty much looked the same, they sure didn't all taste the same. It's really easy to make a bad shrimp cocktail.

Simply use already peeled shrimp, boil them in plain water, and serve them with sauce from a jar. Any "shoemaker" can do that. By the way, this is not an insult to shoemakers, but an old kitchen term for something that tastes like a non-cook made it.

Making a great shrimp cocktail requires the shrimp be cooked with the shells on, and in a very flavorful poaching liquid, called a court bouillon.

It may seem like a lot of extra work, for just a little bit of extra flavor, but it really is the difference. There are a million formulas, but as long as there is salt, some acid, and some aromatics, you can pretty much do whatever you like.

Another tip; get the biggest shrimp you can find. This is a recipe where you want to have something substantial to bite into and chew for a while, so the cocktail sauce has time to mingle and work its magic.

Regarding the cocktail sauce; this is based on what my mother Pauline used to mix up, but I'm sure I put in a lot more horseradish than she did. You may want to add the horseradish last, and do it to taste, if you are not experienced using it. Enjoy!



Ingredients for 4 servings:

2 pounds colossal shrimp (12-15 per/lb)

Poaching Liquid:
3 quarts cold water
1/4 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
2 springs tarragon
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Old Bay
1/2 lemon
1 tsp black peppercorns

Cocktail Sauce:
1/4 cup horseradish, or to taste
1/4 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
few drops of hot sauce, optional
pinch of salt

36 comments:

Chris K. said...

Hey chef,

You ought to create an appetizer called "midget wrestlers." It's shrimp with mussels.

Shoemakers can cook, but they're mostly limited to sole and tongue.

Chef John said...

Wow. Don't quit your day job, unless it's a comedian, then quit. ;-)

Chris K. said...

Sorry. I thought you liked puns. :(

Although your explanation is more fun, "court boullion" is French for "short broth," because of the prep time. I'm just sayin'.

Chef John said...

thanks, no, actually i did like them, but felt obligated

Anonymous said...

Can u use a sweet sause for the 'dip' instead?

Chef John said...

No, the shrimp will explode.


Not really... you can use any sauce you like, you don't need to get my okay. if it tastes good to you, go for it!

FoodwishesDVD#14 said...

Hi again Chef,
we're facing another cold case of "double-dipping" opportunity, aren't we ?

Wendy B. said...

Hey Chef John,
What are your thoughts about which shrimp to buy? It's really difficult to tell the origins of the frozen bagged ones. Do have have any insight?
(We are lucky enough to get spot prawns fresh for a couple of months each year but the rest of the time, I don't want to go without...)

Chef John said...

i think if you go to the higher end stores, like Whole Foods, etc. and ask their fish dept, they can tell you where all the stuff comes from. they are pretty good about explaining the different options.

Nath said...

How come the aromatics don't need to be sauteed before the liquid is added? I rarely see that in recipes, particularly where French names are involved.

Kris said...

Thanks again Chef John! For years I couldn't figure out why my shrimp never had that wonderful taste of the restaurant versions. I had no idea they were cooked this way. As soon as one of these bad boys hit my tongue I knew the answer had been revealed.

Chef John said...

aromatics are cooked in a fat to flavor the oil and the rest of the recipe. Here there is no fat base, so the veg are just steeped in the liquid.

Anonymous said...

Bowser and Blue are a musical comedy duo from Montreal (my hometown) who have a great song about oxymorons - and jumbo shrimp are featured in the song. Just thought that I would drop you a quick note since your post made me think of them (and I think that you would really enjoy their humour!).

Anonymous said...

My teacher is the great great grandson of the person who started the 'Ketchup' Company.

I don't know why, but I like to watch this video over and over and over and over and over and over and over (you get the point) again.

lostpastremembered said...

The shrimp picture was so lovely... I have always been addicted to cocktail sauce... sometimes using a spoon with it just for myself!

Leah N. said...

You have inspired me sir! I am a lover of shrimp cocktail and never realized that it was more than that delicious sauce.

Jesse said...

Where did you get your strainer? I've been looking for that one for over a year now...

Chef John said...

don't remember, Ikea I think.

Anonymous said...

Another great shrimp recipe.The cocktail sause is great.

Johnny Scott-Georgia

Anonymous said...

Just tried this and it turned out terrific. I have never been able to duplicate that fine restaurant taste until now. No more crappy shrimp rings from the grocery store!
Thanks

Anonymous said...

"but as long as there is salt, some acid, and some aromatics, you can pretty much do whatever you like."

There is no salt in your poaching liquid ingredients.

cdcphoenix said...

There's salt in Old Bay seasoning.

Great recipe!

mare said...

Court-bouillon wow, i gotta try it.
and i thought the sauce was just wasabi w/ catchup. ha ha

Matt D said...

Where do u find shrimp that beautiful? Whole Foods?
im From Mass and there is one 40 miles away, is it worth the trip? Sorry i know u hate typing lol but im curious if i should start shopping there. I have a few good butchers in the area but if the quality at Whole Foods is that good im game.

Chef John said...

Don't remember, but WF is a great store. Very expensive, but good. Can't answer whether it's worth it.

vic vega said...

Hi there,.. Can we use the left over broth? For a risotto or something? Big fan btw,..

Anonymous said...

Chef John: how much salt did you add to the poaching liquid? I"m making it for my bride tonight for Valentine's.

Chef John said...

Not sure, just add until the water tastes salty.

Anonymous said...

This was excellent. I ended up using about 1 1/2 tbs. It probably could have used 3, but it was still fantastic.

Tiffany_j said...

Chef John! Love your recipes!! :) hope you reply to my comment here..
Ok so I'm planning on making this but I don't have (and can't find, where I live) some old bay, and tarragon sprigs. Also i don't really like that much horseradish and chilli sauce, so what would be a good substitute for those 4 ingredients? Or can I just leave it out? I'm really confused finding the substitute for them and I hope you reply so I can try the recipe out!

Thanks in advanced :)

Tiffany_j said...

Chef John! Love your recipes!! :) hope you reply to my comment here..
Ok so I'm planning on making this but I don't have (and can't find, where I live) some old bay, and tarragon sprigs.
Also i don't really like that much horseradish and chilli sauce, so what would be a good substitute for those 4 ingredients? Or can I just leave it out?
I'm really confused finding the substitute for them and I hope you reply so I can try the recipe out!

Thanks in advanced :)

Danny M said...

Chef John, Is it necessary to also remove the poop track in the inside of the shrimp also?

Chef John said...

Yes!

ItasF said...

A complete success! NOW I know how to cook shrimp, many thanks

Jerry Drzewiecki said...

To Anonymous,
I never heard of Bowser and Blue but, I think that they must have stolen the oxymoron joke from George Carlin who probably stole it from an old vaudeville performer.

Jerry Drzewiecki said...

Chef John,
Would you please show me how to make the definitive Remoulade sauce? It would make a great alternative to your classic cocktail sauce. My shrimp are simmering so please hurry. Thanks.