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Shrimp Cocktail Recipe (with homemade cocktail sauce)

Plump, tender shrimp with a zesty homemade cocktail sauce is my go-to for a delicious, classy appetizer. That’s what you create with this shrimp cocktail recipe.

Very popular, made in 15-20 minutes and definitely one of the healthier appetizer choices out there. 

shrimp hanging on side of bowl sauce in middle

You can actually make a shrimp cocktail, including the sauce, with just 3 ingredients – shrimp, ketchup and horseradish. We add a few more ingredients to amp up the flavors, but that’s up to you. 

Making a shrimp cocktail appetizer is easier than you might think. So ditch the frozen shrimp ring and store-bought sauce from the grocery store. Yes, it’s zero effort and fine in a pinch, but it simply doesn’t compare to our homemade shrimp cocktail recipe.

Am I the only one who thinks those shrimp rings have limp, watery shrimp? OK, that’s my humble pitch.

Ingredients – tailored to your taste

Shrimp cocktail Ingredients: Large shrimp (peeled and deveined), peppercorns, salt, bay leaf. Sugar optional.
Cocktail sauce ingredients: ketchup, prepared horseradish, worcestershire sauce and lemon (optional)

Shrimp:

  • Try to buy large shrimp or at least medium-large.
    • The easiest way (how I do it): Buy frozen raw large shrimp that are already peeled and deveined. 
    • The cheaper way: Buy frozen shrimp (or fresh shrimp ), preferably easy-to-peel. You will have to peel and devein the shrimp yourself. It’s not difficult, but it is more time consuming. Here’s a good video on how to peel and devein shrimp
  • Also check FAQs for how to buy shrimp and what type to buy

Methods to cook the shrimp: Instead of the poaching method in the recipe card, you can roast the shrimp in about 10 minutes. Here’s Ina Garten’s roasted shrimp cocktail recipe. I use it in our roasted shrimp with gremolata dressing

Dipping sauce alternatives. Instead of the shrimp cocktail sauce in the recipe, try:

Step by step instructions

shrimp poaching in a medium pot
Bring water with seasonings to a boil. Remove from heat. Add shrimp and poach, uncovered, for the correct time (depending on size of shrimp).
cooked shrimp cooling in a bowl of ice water
Transfer shrimp with slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice water for 5 minutes to stop the cooking process. Or run under cold water if you don’t have ice handy.
shrimp in bowl with sauce in center
Serve with shrimp cocktail sauce.
shrimp on skewers
Serving option: on skewers or toothpicks
individual shrimp on spoons with sauce
Another serving option: on spoons with cocktail sauce underneath. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Tip for a perfect shrimp cocktail

Don’t overcook the shrimp. 

There is only one thing you need to pay attention to. Don’t overcook the shrimp or they can become dry and rubbery.

Shrimp should be cooked just until they are no longer translucent. When the end of the thicker part of the shrimp (opposite the tail) turns opaque, the shrimp is done. The outside will turn bright pink or white depending on the type of shrimp. Cut off a little piece and check for doneness. 

“Keep it basic” or “step it up a notch”

Make an easy shrimp cocktail recipe – basic and delicious – or step it up a notch for extra flavor. Up to you.

Make a poaching liquid

The easiest way (how I do it): Boil water, salt, peppercorns and a bay leaf. Add shrimp, remove from heat and poach for a few minutes. Technically, you can make this even easier by just using boiled water and salt, but the shrimp won’t be as flavorful. That’s where the cocktail sauce comes in. 

Step it up a notch: Make a court bouillon for the poaching liquid. This includes water, peppercorns, bay leaf, carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Boil for 10-15 minutes before adding the shrimp.

Make the sauce

The easiest way: Mix together ketchup and prepared horseradish. 

Step it up a notch: Add Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce to the ketchup and horseradish.

I use both ways. They both just take a minute.

Recipe FAQs

What type of shrimp should I buy?

For this dish, buy uncooked large or medium-large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined if you are willing to splurge. The number on the package refers to how many shrimp in a pound. Large shrimp are about 13-15 (per pound/450g). Medium-large, as pictured, are about 21-25 per pound/450grams. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. Frozen shrimp are safer and usually ‘fresher’ as they are frozen immediately after being caught. Most grocery stores carry them in the frozen fish section. Choosing wild caught or farmed is a personal preference. Wild caught such as Argentine shrimp have a shrimp-ier stronger taste.

Should I keep the shells on when cooking shrimp?

Some do. They think the shrimp get more plump this way and are less likely to overcook. I don’t keep the shells on because I prefer the convenience of buying pre peeled and deveined shrimp. They still come out delicious and flavorful. I keep the tails on though – easier to handle as appetizers.

How long should shrimp cook?

Poach peeled shrimp just until it’s opaque. Test for doneness by cutting off a piece of the thicker end of one shrimp. Here’s a guideline for poaching times from Bon Appetit based on the size of the shrimp. Medium 26-30/pound/450g – 1.5 minutes. Medium-large 21-25/pound/450g – 2 minutes. Large 13-15/pound/450g – 4 minutes. Jumbo 8-12/pound/450g – 5 minutes. To quickly stop the cooking process, transfer shrimp to a bowl of ice water. 

Are shrimp healthy? 

Yes, they are low in calories and an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B12, and iron. They do contain higher cholesterol, but this is outweighed by the many other healthy benefits. Source: Healthline. One shrimp without sauce contains 7 calories, almost no fat and 1 gram of protein.

Shortcuts

  • Start with pre peeled and deveined raw shrimp
  • Instead of using bay leaves, peppercorns and salt for the poaching liquid, use Old Bay seasoning.
  • Skip the ice water bath after poaching and run the shrimp under cold water for a few minutes. 
  • Buy the sauce instead of making it. (I can’t believe I’m saying this – it takes one minute to make!)
  • Buy cooked shrimp at a deli counter, but make sure they are fresh. 

Serving options

Serve the shrimp cocktail in small bowls, a serving bowl or platter, around the rim of martini glasses, in a shot glass, on skewers or on individual spoons.

Make Ahead

  • The shrimp can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. 
  • The homemade cocktail sauce can be made 4-5 days ahead. 
  • Bring the shrimp to room temperature before serving. 
shrimp cocktail in bowl with cocktail sauce

And be sure to check out others in our post on 20 vegetarian appetizers (with serving tips)

If you like this recipe, please leave a 5 star rating 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟in the recipe card below. And if you REALLY like it, consider a review in the comments. Thanks!

shrimp hanging on side of bowl sauce in middle
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Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

Plump, tender shrimp with a zesty homemade cocktail sauce is my go-to for a delicious, classy appetizer. That's what you create with this shrimp cocktail recipe. Very popular, made in 15-20 minutes and definitely one of the healthier appetizer choices out there. 
Prep Time6 mins
Cook Time4 mins
chill5 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: appetizers
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 -6
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Shrimp and Poaching Liquid

  • 6 cups (1.5 liters/quarts) water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • optional: instead of seasonings above, you can add 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning to the water.
  • 1 pound (450grams) medium-large or large shrimp (21-25 or 16-20/pound/450g), peeled and deveined, Note 1 thawed if frozen.
  • large bowl of ice water

Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

  • 1 cup (237ml/270g) ketchup (1/4 of this can be chili sauce instead)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (not the creamy horseradish sauce)
  • optional: I also add 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice or zest. Add a couple of drops of hot sauce like Tabasco if you want a spicy cocktail sauce.

Instructions

  • POACH SHRIMP: Bring water and seasonings to a boil on high heat in a medium pot. Add shrimp and immediately remove pan from heat. Let shrimp sit in the water, uncovered, for the amount of time based on the size of shrimp, Note 1. Times are from Bon Appetit and work well:
    1.5 minutes for 26-30/lb
    2 minutes for 21-25/lb
    4 minutes for 13-15/lb
    5 minutes for 8-12/lb
  • STOP COOKING PROCESS: Transfer shrimp with slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to cool down quickly for 5 minutes. Or drain shrimp and add lots of ice to the pot, then toss to cool down shrimp quickly.
  • MAKE COCKTAIL SAUCE RECIPE: In a small bowl, combine ketchup, prepared horseradish and optional Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and/or hot sauce if desired. Serve shrimp with sauce on the side for dipping. Or drizzle it on top of the shrimp.

Notes

  1. Shrimp: Frozen shrimp come in bags with a number on it (e.g. 16-20) indicating the number of shrimp per pound (450 grams). Medium large shrimp are 21-25/pound (450g) and large are 16-20/pound(450g), the preferred sized for an appetizer. Thaw them if frozen and leave the tails on. For a shortcut, buy peeled and deveined shrimp. If peels are still on, here’s a video on how to peel and devein shrimp. It’s important to cook the shrimp based on their size as they are easy to overcook. 
  2. Sauce alternatives: Instead of making the shrimp cocktail sauce recipe above, try 5 minute herb sauce, roasted red pepper sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce,1000 Island dressing or Russian dressing or chimichurri
  3. Serving options: Serve shrimp in a serving bowl or platter, around a martini glass, in a shot glass, on skewers or on individual spoons.
  4. Make Ahead: The shrimp can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. The homemade cocktail sauce can be made 4-5 days ahead. Bring the shrimp to room temperature before serving. 
 
Nutrition values are estimates based on 1/4 pound/113 grams shrimp per person with sauce. Approximately 4-5 shrimp. 

Nutrition

Calories: 151kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 2372mg | Potassium: 333mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 516IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 76mg | Iron: 1mg
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