Perfect Shrimp Coctail

Perfect Shrimp Cocktail

It’s almost summer time and one off my favorites with a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc is Shrimp cocktail.  Here are my secrets to the perfect shrimp cocktail.

I’m helping my good friend Merry with the wedding brunch for her son David’s wedding this weekend and she requested my perfect shrimp cocktail.  I’m happy to oblige.  Shrimp cocktail is one of those things that when it is great it can be one of the best things you’ve ever had but when it is bad you want to discreetly spit it out in your napkin.  I love shrimp cocktail.  It has always been one of my favorites and I’m always so disappointed when I bite into a rubbery shrimp or a flavorless shrimp.  It’s hard to get all aspects rigt.  If it’s flavorful-t’s rubbery, if it’s cooked right-it has no flavor.  It seems never the twain shall meet so we slather it with cocktail sauce.  This recipe gives you all things.  Shrimp cocktail cooked just enough to have a great bite but also infused with so much flavor that the cocktail sauce is a condiment not a required part of the dish. (but I still love it – see recipe below for homemade cocktail sauce).

To achieve this perfect shrimp cocktail, you do have to spend a little extra time.  Not difficult work, but we are not just going to throw shrimp in some boiling water and hope for the best results.   The two tricks to the best shrimp cocktail ever 1) build a flavorful stock to cook the shrimp in 2) don’t cook shrimp in boiling stock, remove it from the heat and let the shrimp gently steep.

A bonus to shrimp cocktail, it is so much lower in calories then most party fare so grab another shrimp instead of a meatball or a cookie.  Plus, it goes great with bubbly.


Perfect Shrimp Cocktail Printable Recipe

Active Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 50 Minutes
Makes 2 Pounds


  • 2 pounds U-15 or 16-21 shrimp (you need shrimp with the shells on – sometimes at larger grocery stores they will peel and devein for you but be sure you tell them you need to take the shells home)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoons mixed peppercorns (make sure to use the pink peppercorns – they have a wonderful flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 2 sprigs tarragon
  • 1 lemon
Herbs, Spices, & Flavorings for Shrimp

Herbs, Spices, & Flavorings for Shrimp

*Note – these herbs and spices are only suggestions.  I’ve used thyme, rosemary, red pepper flakes, jalapenos, serrano peppers, juniper berries, limes, oranges, garlic or any number of things that can build a great stock for the shrimp and give it a special flavor.  Experiment and use your imagination.  The most important thing is to stick with the building of the stock and the cooking method.


Peel, devein, and rinse your shrimp reserving shells. (If I’m serving individual shrimp cocktails I leave the tails on to make a pretty presentation over a martini glass.  If I’m serving a platter of shrimp cocktail at a gathering I remove the shells so people don’t have a tail left over, they can just eat and go).

Bring 6 cups water with 1 tablespoon salt to a boil.  Add in shrimp shells and bring back to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and keep at a simmer for 20-30 minutes.  When you lift the lid you will smell a wonderfully fragrant stock. 

Simmering Shrimp Stock - The Secret to Perfect Shrimp Cocktail

Simmering Shrimp Stock – The First Secret to Perfect Shrimp Cocktail

Drain the shells out.  If you want to get all the flavor, pick the shells up and squeeze any liquid into the stock or press down on them with a spoon.

Return the shrimp stock to your pan on the stove.  Add in all remaining ingredients except for shrimp, including remaining teaspoon of salt, and lemon cut in half. 

Flavored Stock for Shrimp Coctail

Flavored Stock for Shrimp Cocktail

Bring stock to a boil for 3-5 minutes.  Turn off heat and remove pan from heat.  Gently stir in shrimp and let sit in the hot stock for 8-10 minutes until firm and pink.   Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with a bunch of ice and cold water.   When shrimp is done strain and put into ice bath.  When chilled, remove from ice bath and continue chilling in refrigerator.  Serve with traditional cocktail sauce (recipe below) or a sweet chile sauce or both.


Active Time: 5 Minutes
Total Time: 5 Minutes
Makes about 2 ¼ cups


  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons prepared horseradish (this makes it medium to high spicy – I like even a bit more – but add only half of horseradish to begin and test to determine your preference for spice level).
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice


In a small bowl mix together all ingredients but only 2 tablespoons of horseradish.  Test – if you like the spice don’t add remaining horseradish.  If you want it spicier, add a tablespoon at a time until you are happy with the level of spice.

Perfect Shrimp Coctail

Perfect Shrimp Cocktail

Happy Cooking & Remember
Take Time to Enjoy a
Little Gourmet Everyday!!