Shrimp Cocktail Done Right

Shrimp Cocktail Done Right

Recipe and Photos by Cody Owens

For me, shrimp cocktail has always been an excuse to unapologetically chow down on as much horseradish as possible. I know that might not be for everyone, and some may have stopped reading already, but that’s my truth. I love it. 

Because of our mutual love for this tingly, spicy little root, my wife and I will eat shrimp cocktail for dinner at least once a month. When it’s well executed, there are few things I enjoy more in this world. On the flip side of that, a bad shrimp cocktail that you pay $15 for at a restaurant and you get five little shrimps hanging out on a wine glass filled with glorified ketchup, is a good way to ruin a day. 

So, I’m here to spread the gospel of shrimp cocktail and encourage you to make this at home. Is it a labor of love? Maybe. Do you like feeling a little fancy on a random Wednesday night? Who doesn’t? If you take your time with each step of this process—which isn’t that much—you might find yourself making any excuse possible to throw a little shrimp cocktail party. Autumn Equinox? Shrimp cocktail time! Toyotathon? Bust out the shrimp!  

OK. Let's get into it. 

The Shrimp

I prefer to get larger shrimp, usually in the 16/20 range. If you didn’t know, those numbers indicate how many shrimp are usually in a pound. 

A lot has been said about deveining shrimp. When I’m just making it at home, I don’t bother.  But typically, if people are coming over, I’ll go ahead and do that so I don't have to hear people get all weird about it. I use a pair of kitchen shears and cut down the back of each shrimp and remove the vein, leaving the rest of the shell intact. 

While I’m doing this, I will get the poaching liquid going. There are lots of aromatics you can add to imbue flavor here. I’ve seen lemongrass, ginger—all kinds of stuff. So, go buck wild! For me, I like to add a whole head of garlic and a lot of Cajun seasoning to a pot of water. I let that boil for about thirty minutes to get that flavor concentrated. 

Add the shrimp and cook for roughly three and a half minutes. You do not want to overcook the shrimp! 

Remove the shrimp and add to a big bowl of ice. Some people will add water, but I’ve found it removes some of the flavor. Plus, the hot shrimp melts down the ice anyway. Put this in the fridge for ten minutes. I’ll drain the excess water periodically as well. Once it’s completely cooled, I peel the shrimp and place them in a bowl without ice in the fridge so they don’t get watered down. When you’re ready to serve, put them on ice and let people go to town.

The Cocktail Sauce

For my cocktail sauce, I do a one-to-one ratio of Heinz chili sauce and horseradish. I’ll add a big squeeze of lemon juice, cracked pepper, and a few dashes of hot sauce. That’s it. You can obviously adjust this to your own tastes, but these ingredients are really all you need.

  • Prepared horseradish
  • Heinz Chili Sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • Hot sauce
  • Salt and cracked pepper 

Alabama Tartar Sauce

Variety is the spice of life, so I like to give my guests options for their horseradish journey. I was born and raised in Alabama, so I obviously have an affinity for Alabama White BBQ Sauce. One day I asked myself, Why not do something similar for shrimp cocktail? There are no rules. 

The ingredients are simple: It’s a mayo/vinegar-based sauce with a lot of lemon, horseradish, and cracked pepper. Add these ingredients together, whisk and chill until serving. This recipe makes more than enough, so feel free to scale it up or down. 

  • 1/4 cup mayo (Duke’s over everything)
  • 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 heaping tablespoon prepared horseradish 
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Pickled banana peppers (or pickles), diced. Measure with your heart.
  • Lots of fresh dill 
  • Lots of fresh cracked pepper