The Shrimp Cocktail – A Retro Favorite


“Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s, um, shrimp ka-bobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. . . That’s, that’s about it.” – Mykelti Williamson

The Appetizer Of All Appetizers

     Mykelti, you failed to mention the Classic Shrimp Cocktail. Of all of the ways to serve shrimp, it is my favorite. It basically is an appetizer that reached its height of popularity popular during the Madmen era. It was simply boiled shrimp that was dipped into a tomato-based sauce with various spicy additives, and was presented in a variety of ways. A popular way to serve it was at the end of a toothpick. Or the shrimp could be hanging on the rim of a cocktail glass. This became popular in the United States beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We owe the cocktail in shrimp cocktail to Prohibition in the 1920s. If you couldn’t drink a cocktail — not legally, anyway — you could at least eat one and make good use of your stemware in the process. 

And When They’re Bad, They’re Horrid!

Shrimp Cocktail a la Goodyear

     Of all of the things I’ve eaten, perhaps the broadest spectrum of bad to great was the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp can have a succulent taste just exploding with flavor to shrimp that tastes like they’ve been processed at a Goodyear plant.

     There’s really only two things to consider. The first is the quality of the shrimp, and the second is the sauce, which has to be homemade. The bottle kind(?) – use only in a pinch because the homemade variety is not that hard to make.

     While it’s certainly not as popular as it once was, it still can be a special treat. Make up some sauce using my recipe and prepare some shrimp according to my directions, and it’s party time. When you’ve been home for several days and you’re bored with the status quo, it’s the quickest way to import some Las Vegas glitz into your dining room.

One parting quote:


The Incomparable One

 “Artichokes. These things are just plain annoying. After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual “food” out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps. Have the shrimp cocktail instead.” – Miss Piggy

Shrimp Cocktail

yields: 4 Servings prep time: 40 Minutes cook time: 6 Minutes
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Homemade Cocktail Sauce (Make up ahead of time)

Ingredients:   1/2 cup Ketchup                           Target Time __________ (about 50 minutes)    

                        2 Tbsp Horseradish sauce           Can be prepared ahead of time.

                        1 Tbsp Lemon juice

                        1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

                        1/2 tsp Hot sauce


  • Mix ingredients together.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Purchasing the shrimp:

  • I prefer the gulf variety of a 16-20 size with the heads removed but the rest of the shell/tail intact.
  • A serving is 6-7 shrimp.
  • I buy fresh frozen, and I purchase them the morning of the event.
  • When I am peeling the shrimp, I leave the tail on and the first segment of shell so our guests can grip the shrimp and then dip it into the sauce.

Sautéing The Shrimp

  • Heat a skillet over med-high heat.
  • Add 2 Tbsp of EVOO.
  • Sauté shrimp for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes a side (do not overcook or the texture will be tough). Also, do not crowd in the skillet. You may have to do this in several batches.
  • Remove from heat.
  • To the last batch I will add the shrimp from the prior batches.
  • Add 2 Tbsp of butter and some parsley and toss.
  • Let cool in the refrigerator, or immediately serve. Your choice. I usually chill the sautéed shrimp.



We like to serve the shrimp hanging over the edge of cocktail glasses.

We add about 3 Tbsp of cocktail sauce to each glass.

We also have a lemon wedge not only as decoration, but also for the guests to spritz up their sauce if they would like. 

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