Shrimp cocktail might conjure up visions of supper clubs, steakhouses, and fancy 1960s cocktail parties, but it is deceptively easy to throw together at home. This version is leagues better than the rubbery rings of prepared shrimp you can buy at the grocery store, but it’s not much harder to make— if you have the ingredients, it’s actually going to take less time to make it than it would to go to the store to buy it. Getting the right size shrimp is key. From there, just give them a quick poach in an aromatic broth followed by an ice bath. A couple of extra ingredients in the poaching liquid give the shrimp a hint of flavor to push them from ordinary to extraordinary, and making your own cocktail sauce lets you control your spice level.

You will need:

For the shrimp:

2 pounds 21-25 raw shrimp, deveined
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 lemons
1/2 yellow onion
4 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
8-10 peppercorns
2 C white wine
Ice to cool the shrimp

For the cocktail sauce:

1/2 C ketchup
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
up to 1 Tbsp prepared horseradish
a few dashes of Tabasco sauce (optional)

I get my shrimp from Costco in a big freezer bag, they’re already shelled and deveined. If yours aren’t, I will assume you are an Advanced Chef, and you know how to de-shell and de-vein your shrimp. I just check mine over a little to make sure all the veins have been fully removed, then give them a rinse.

Sprinkle your clean shrimp with the baking soda and salt, then stir with your hands to combine and set aside. The baking soda will help your shrimp stay firm (no one likes mushy shrimp).

Haul out a large pot, and fill it about half full with water. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves, and set it over a burner on high heat.

Chop the onion half in two and add it to the pot. Smash the garlic, take off the peel, and add the garlic to the pot. Slice the lemon into thick slices (you don’t need to be precise, here) and squeeze them into the pot, then add the spent lemons to the water with the wine. You’ll want the water come to a boil and boil for about ten minutes.

While the water is heating, stir up your cocktail sauce.

Cut your second lemon in half. Juice half of the lemon into a bowl and add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and as much of the horseradish as you’d like (I use a generous tablespoon because I like it SPICY, if you don’t, start with half a tablespoon and add more after you taste it). Stir together. Add the Tabasco, if you wish. Voila, your cocktail sauce is done. (Yes, it really is that easy.)

Cut the other half of the lemon into small wedges and set aside.

If you’re still waiting on the pot to get it’s ten minutes of boil time, go ahead and clean up your mess and find a nice plate for the shrimp. Maybe have a glass of that wine. Then find a very large bowl and fill it halfway with ice.

When the aromatics have boiled about 10 minutes, fish them out with a slotted spoon and discard them. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting (the water should not be at a rolling boil when you add the shrimp).

Rinse your shrimp and add them to the pot of water. I neglected this step when I was taking photos for this, and as a result, when I added the shrimp to the pot the baking soda and lemon reacted and the pot FOAMED UP. Do as I say, not as I do. This won’t affect the end flavor of your shrimp, but it is pretty weird. See?

Set a timer for two and a half minutes. When the timer beeps, check your shrimp. They should be opaque (not see-through in any parts), salmon-colored where they were grey, and slightly curling. If they are not, check them again in thirty seconds. Yes, that soon. They cook very quickly and overcook even faster.

When they’re done, fish them all out with a slotted spoon or dump them into a strainer and add them to the bowl with the ice. Set the bowl in your sink and fill the bowl the rest of the way with water. Let the shrimp cool down (this took about five minutes for me).

Strain the shrimp out, pat with paper towels, and refrigerate or serve immediately, with the cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.

You’re so fancy.

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