You will be amazed at how easy it is to make Poached Shrimp Cocktail! This recipe gives you perfectly tender, plump shrimp served along with a zesty, well-seasoned cocktail sauce.
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What is it about shrimp cocktail that signifies "fancy"? Whether it is at a restaurant, a Las Vegas buffet, or even a dinner party, bring shrimp cocktail into the mix and the atmosphere gets an instant boost. For being something considered fancy, it is surprising how easy it is to make!
A few years ago, I was hosting a dinner party and picked up a tray of shrimp cocktail from the grocery store. I was so disappointed! The shrimp tasted like chlorine and the cocktail sauce was boring. If I had only known how easy it was to make shrimp cocktail myself!
This year, on New Year's Eve, I made this poached shrimp cocktail recipe. And I couldn't stop eating it! My sisters asked for the recipe, and said it was the best shrimp cocktail they'd had! You won't buy another grocery store cocktail tray once you try this recipe.
How to Thaw Shrimp
In order to cook your shrimp properly and with a great texture, shrimp must be thawed before cooking. You can do this two ways:
- In the Refrigerator - This method allows the shrimp to thaw slowly and maintain its optimal texture. Place the bag of shrimp in a bowl in case it leaks. Refrigerate for 12 hours. Once the shrimp is thawed, it needs to be cooked within 48 hours.
- In the Sink - Place the shrimp in a colander and run cold water over the shrimp for 10 minutes. You could also place the shrimp in a bowl and fill it with cold water. Let the shrimp sit in the water for 10 minutes.
Note: The direct water thawing method works well for shrimp that still has the peel. If you have pre-peeled shrimp, directly running water over the shrimp could cause it to fall apart, so thaw in the refrigerator or water bath instead.
How to Peel
- EZ-peel shrimp have a slice through the shell down the center, so they are really easy to peel!
- Just hold the shrimp in one hand, and with your other hand, slip your finger underneath the shell, and peel back.
- Sometimes the shell will naturally break off at the tail, but if the tail is still secure to the shell, carefully tear the shell away.
- Using a pairing knife, make a cut along the back of the shrimp and remove the vein.
- Some shrimp also have a vein along the belly. There is no food safety risk in leaving this vein, but I find it more appetizing to remove. Just follow the same process as removing the other vein.
If you are a visual learner, check out this video to watch instructions on how to peel shrimp Just remember that when peeling your shrimp for shrimp cocktail, you want to leave the tail on, so just skip that step of the video.
What is Poaching?
Poaching is the process of slowly cooking food in hot water. It is a very gentle way to cook, which makes it perfect for cooking shrimp! The end result is shrimp that is tender, juicy, and not at all rubbery.
For the most flavorful shrimp, first infuse the water with complementary flavors, by boiling peppercorns, lemon, garlic, salt, and a bay leaf. This does not give the shrimp a strong flavor, but it draws out the shrimp's natural flavors.
After 15 minutes, turn the burner off and add the shrimp. It only takes 5 minutes for the shrimp to cook! Drain the water and that's all there is to it! Your shrimp is ready to serve.
How to Make Cocktail Sauce
What is shrimp without a good cocktail sauce? This recipe is for a simple sauce with a nice zing. You can control how mild or spicy it is by adding more or less hot pepper sauce and horseradish.
Ketchup - This is the signature foundation of cocktail sauce.
Creamy Prepared Horseradish - It wouldn't be cocktail sauce without horseradish. Really. I tested a "no-horseradish" version of cocktail sauce and it was a disaster. Horseradish is what gives cocktail sauce the zesty spice.
Worcestershire - Provides depth of flavor.
Lemon Juice - The acidity brightens the dish and balances the spice.
Hot Pepper Sauce - Adds another layer of spice.
Mix all of the ingredients together and your cocktail sauce is ready to serve! So simple!
What Should I Serve With Shrimp Cocktail?
- Shrimp cocktail is a great appetizer for any party or special dinner.
- It is delicious with steak or smoked prime rib.
- Make it a night of seafood with oven-baked crab cakes!
Food Safety FAQs
Shrimp does need to be kept under 41F degrees in order to avoid bacteria growth. If you are serving shrimp immediately then it does not need ice. However, if it will be out of the refrigerator for 2 hours or longer, serve the shrimp on ice or on a chill platter.
Unless you have access to shrimp that is sold off the ship, it is best to buy your shrimp frozen. The "fresh" shrimp at the butcher counter was actually flash-frozen and thawed. So purchasing your shrimp frozen is the best way to get shrimp that is as fresh as possible.
The internal temperature of a fully cooked shrimp should reach 120F degrees. However, the best way to tell if your shrimp is cooked is by sight. When shrimp is cooked the color changes from grey to an opaque white with dark pink and orange on the sides.
Poached Shrimp Cocktail Recipe
- 2 pounds jumbo easy-peel shrimp (16-20 count per pound)
- 3 quarts water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 whole peppercorns
- ½ lemon
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup ketchup
- ¼ cup creamy horseradish sauce
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
- 1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2-3 dashes hot sauce
Poaching the Shrimp
- Thaw the frozen shrimp in the refrigerator, or under running water for 5 minutes.
- Remove the peel, leaving the tail on.
- Bring water to a boil in a large stock pan.
- Add salt, peppercorns, lemon and bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the shrimp. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid for 5 minutes, or until the shrimp is opaque.
- Drain the water and refrigerate shrimp until ready to serve.
Preparing the Cocktail Sauce
- In a small bowl, mix ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and hot sauce.
- Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.