Shrimp cocktail is one of those appetizers that's so much better homemade! Colossal shrimp are boiled in a blend of water, lemon, and Old Bay until pink and plump and served alongside homemade cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Once you see how easy this is, you'll never buy storebought again!
Shrimp cocktail is one of the simplest appetizers, yet it's often something that is picked up from the grocery store in a plastic ring.
And it's usually not that good: the shrimp are tiny and water-logged, and while it gets eaten, no one is ever blown away by it.
But homemade shrimp with cocktail sauce is another thing entirely!
The shrimp are firm and plump and the sauce is fresh; storebought just can't compare!
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Mix 1 ½ pounds of colossal shrimp with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda and a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and set aside allowing the shrimp to set for 20 minutes before boiling.
- In a small bowl combine 1 cup of ketchup, 3 tablespoons of prepared horseradish, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon of Tabasco sauce, and sea salt to taste.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water and bring a pot filled with 8 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 1 medium onion with the skin removed and cut in half, 1 tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning, and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil.
- Add the shrimp to the pot.
- Cook the shrimp until they turn slightly opaque. For 12-15 count shrimp they took exactly 3 minutes to cook.
- Drain the shrimp and place them immediately into the ice water to stop them from cooking further. After the shrimp have chilled, dry any residual water off of them, and serve on a large platter with the cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Enjoy!
Top tips for shrimp cocktail
- Shrimp. We used colossal shrimp, size u12-15, meaning there are 12-15 shrimp per pound. You can use any size shrimp you like but keep in mind that smaller shrimp will require less cooking time so keep an eye on them and don't overcook. Once they're opaque, they're done. For 12-15 count shrimp (by the way these are very affordable from Costco) they took exactly 3 minutes. Smaller shrimp could take as short as 90 seconds to cook so watch carefully! If you're not sure if the shrimp are done, simply remove one from the pot and cut it open. If it's opaque, remove all the shrimp right to the ice water bath.
- Ice water. Don't skip the ice water bath. It is 100% necessary. It's important to submerge the shrimp in the ice water as soon as they're done otherwise they'll continue to cook and may become tough.
- Cocktail sauce. Sure you can use storebought, but homemade is so much better. We added a ½ teaspoon of Tabasco to ours, but if you like it very spicy, add a little more, or serve with extra Tabasco on the side.
More great appetizers
If you're looking for appetizers, here are a few of our favorites!
- Fried calamari - lightly fried, tender calamari with a marinara dipping sauce.
- Clams oreganata - baked clams stuffed with garlicky breadcrumbs.
- Mussels in white wine sauce - white wine, garlic, parsley, and butter tossed with mussels.
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For the cocktail sauce
- 1 cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
- sea salt to taste
For the shrimp
- 1.5 pounds colossal shrimp u12-15 - see notes below
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the poaching liquid
- 8 cups water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 medium onion skin removed and cut in half
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1 tablespoon salt
Boiling the shrimp
- Mix the shrimp with the baking soda and salt and set aside. Wait 20 minutes until boiling. While the shrimp are sitting in the brine, mix the cocktail sauce.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water for shocking the shrimp and set aside.
- Add all of the boiling ingredients to a large pot and bring to a boil.
- Add the shrimp to the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes or until they turn slightly opaque. Drain the shrimp and place them immediately into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process.
For the cocktail sauce
- Mix together all of the ingredients and taste test. Adjust salt and pepper if required.
Serving the shrimp cocktail
- Serve the shrimp on a large platter (over crushed ice is great but not required) with the cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Enjoy!
- For convenience, cleaned and deveined U12-15 shrimp were used. Feel free to use shell on shrimp if you desire and peel right after shocking in the ice water bath.
- Any size shrimp can be used. Smaller shrimp will take less time so keep an eye on them. Once they are opaque, they are done and should be drained and shocked in ice water immediately.
- Shrimp cocktail can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.