Shrimp Cocktail

Who doesn’t love this old school classic?  The cold and tender shrimp. The sweet and spicy sauce.  So delicious. I like to serve these Savory Roasted Garlic Palmiers and a Classic Cosmopolitan Martini to wash it all down.

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If you’ve ever ordered a shrimp cocktail at a restaurant or bought one of those rings in the grocery store and bitten into a mushy, watery, flavorless, or even rubbery shrimp, you quickly either stop eating the dish altogether or learn to make it at home.

Plate of the old school classic-shrimp cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce

Making a shrimp cocktail at home is incredibly easy.  Plus, the homemade cocktail sauce has a fresh taste that you can’t buy in a jar and you can control the level of heat from the horseradish.  Pretty much, if you can boil water and stir, you can make this old school classic at home.


First, bring a pot of water with aromatics to a boil and allow to boil for about 10 minutes so the herbs, lemon, and vegetables can flavor the water.  Then remove the pot from the heat.

Add the 16-20 count large shrimp for just a few minutes to poach.

Drain and ice down the shrimp.  Easy.

For the sauce, all you do is stir the ingredients together.


I like using Key West Pinks in a 16-20 count.  They seem like a perfect size for this dish. However, if you have a different size, here are your poaching times:

  • Small shrimp – 26-30 count:  poach for 1 ½-2 minutes
  • Medium shrimp – 21-25 count:  poach for 2-2 ½ minutes
  • Extra-large shrimp – 13-15 count:  poach for 4 minutes
  • Jumbo shrimp – 8-12 count:  poach for 5 minutes


YES!  And the best part of using frozen shrimp is that you don’t have to thaw them first.

I always have a bag of frozen shrimp in my freezer, usually peeled and deveined with the tail on. 

You don’t want to get ‘previously frozen shrimp’ at the fish counter because you can’t refreeze them.

Look for bags of shrimp in the freezer section.  The bag should feel like the shrimp is in individual pieces, not a big clump – that could mean that it thawed and was refrozen.

So to poach frozen shrimp, you simply add the frozen shrimp to the boiling water and allow to poach one minute longer.  Just add one minute and you are good to go.

It’s beautifully simple, right?

Plate of the old school classic-shrimp cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce


If you liked this appetizer recipe, here are a few more to try:

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Plate of the old school classic-shrimp cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce



This old school classic is so delicious and yet so easy, you won’t order a shrimp cocktail in a restaurant or buy a grocery store ring any longer.  And, making your own cocktail sauce makes this dish extra special.



For the shrimp:

¼ cup Kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

2 lemons, cut into quarters

1 onion, quartered

1 head of garlic, cut ¼-inch off of the top

1 bunch parsley

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 pound large or extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail left on (16-20 count)

For the cocktail sauce

1 cup chili sauce (I like Heinz)

¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Few dashes of hot sauce (I like Frank’s)

¼ teaspoon celery salt


Make the shrimp.

Combine the salt, sugar, and 7 cups of water in a large Dutch oven.  Squeeze the lemon quarters into the pot and toss in the lemons quarters, onion, garlic, parsley, and peppercorns.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let boil for 10 minutes to extract the flavors from the onion, lemon, and parsley.  Turn off the heat.

Add the shrimp and allow to cook just until they turn opaque – about 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice.

Drain the Dutch oven into a colander.  Dump the hot shrimp into the bowl of ice and toss to coat.

Allow the shrimp to cool for at least 10-15 minutes.

Drain the shrimp and pat dry with paper towels.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until cold, at least 1 hour.

Make the cocktail sauce.

In a medium bowl, mix together the chili sauce, lemon zest, lemon juice, horseradish, pepper,  hot sauce, and celery salt until well combined.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

Serve the shrimp arranged on a plate with the sauce on the side.  Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, if desired.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Starters - Appetizers
  • Method: Poach
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: old school classic, shrimp recipes, appetizer recipes, easy recipes, cocktail hour, happy hour

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