Shrimp Cocktail

Chef's notes:

Shrimp cocktail is one of the best and easiest appetizers to make and serve. Not only is it easy to prepare, but it can be made ahead of time, as it is served ice cold. The absolute best shrimp to use for shrimp cocktail is fresh shell-on shrimp that hasn’t been de-veined yet. The shrimp is boiled lightly in aromatics of lemon, laurel, salt, and peppercorns. These aromatics impart some flavor to the shrimp flesh. After the shrimp is done, the flesh turns opaque, and they are quenched in ice water so as to halt the cooking process. Once the shrimp is cooled, they are de-veined and shelled with a de-veining tool. It looks like the business end of a small handheld pick ax. This is the best way to do it but not the only way. I chose to try a different method for this article—a quicker, easier, and cheaper way.


  • 1 pound peeled and de-veined black tiger shrimp
  • 1 cup chili sauce
  • 1 Tbsp horseradish
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp grated onion plus juice
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce to taste

Shrimp Recipe: Shrimp Steamed and Cooled Served with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

  1. I used peeled and de-veined frozen black tiger shrimp. I thawed them in cold water. They thaw in about 10 minutes. After they were thawed, I drained them in a colander for another 10 minutes. You can thaw shrimp overnight in the fridge in the package if you plan ahead. I examined the shrimp to make sure they were all in good shape and that they were in fact de-veined. Sometimes they miss a little. There is roughly one pound of shrimp in the colander on the right.
  2. I put water in the steamer and started it up. It takes about 10 minutes to get to a good boil. I decided to steam these shrimp because it isn’t as hard on the shrimp as boiling. Because they are shelled, I wanted to cook them gently. Once the steamer is steaming, put the shrimp in and put the lid back on. These shrimp were U 16/20 (16-20 shrimp per pound), so I cooked them for 7 minutes. Smaller shrimp will take less time. And logically larger shrimp will take longer.
  3. After 7 minutes was up, I checked the shrimp to make sure they were done. They were. You can tell by squeezing them. There should be a little give. And if you bite into it, it should be tender and not chewy like rubber. When the shrimp are done, they turn from the translucent grayish white to an opaque white. And of course they are red, too. But the red can come from any sudden change in temperature and does not necessarily mean that they are done.
  4. Take the shrimp out of the steamer as soon as they are done and put them into ice water. The ice water will cool them quickly and cease any cooking still taking place. After a few minutes in the ice water, remove them and let them drain in a colander. If you are making cocktail sauce, there is a recipe in the upper right corner of this page. Serve the shrimp ice cold with cocktail sauce to dip in.

Tips & Tricks

  • As I said in the introduction, boiling the shrimp is an option for cooking them. But don’t limit yourself to standard modes of preparation. Any type of cooked shrimp can be dipped into cocktail sauce. There are no rules in cooking; only opportunities for improvement. Try grilling shrimp with a little seasoning and lemon juice and then cooling them and dipping them in cocktail sauce. Be creative and have some fun with your food. It may make the never-ending cooking and cleaning worthwhile. Maybe.
  • Only buy the shell-on shrimp if you feel like peeling all those shrimp for everyone eating them. Serving shell-on shrimp for cocktail shrimp is terribly tacky and reminiscent of a Chinese buffet.
  • Even though I used black tiger shrimp for this article, I recommend sticking with gulf coast shrimp caught by American shrimp boats. The most common American shrimp is called the brown shrimp, and it constitutes ½ of all American-caught shrimp.
  • It is okay to quote the film Forrest Gump when cooking, serving, and eating shrimp. In fact, it can only improve your evening.