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Shrimp is a great party snack or just to munch on while watching a movie at home. You don’t have to buy cocktail sauce in a jar; most ingredients you probably have at home. You can easily make a sauce that meets your flavor preference.

You can buy cooked shrimp at the grocery store. That does not mean it is a good idea. Who knows when those shrimp were cooked, and if they were cooked to rubber? My recommendation is to buy uncooked, peel-on shrimp.

I can’t give you an exact time to cook shrimp. There are too many variables to take into consideration — the size, if there are shells, the amount of water, the heat from the range. The best way is to cook it slow, check and taste it. I like to add some aromatics (bay leaves, onion, garlic, peppercorns, parsley stems and anything else that might work with the flavor profile) and salt to the water. The best way to cook shrimp is shell-on; they have better flavor and retain more moisture.

Cook the shrimp in boiling water with aromatics and salt. Make sure you have enough water to cook the shrimp, but no overflow after adding the shrimp — about 2 quarts of water per pound. Bring water to a boil and add the shrimp; turn off the heat immediately. The shrimp will cook with the residual heat in the water. Give the shrimp a stir and let sit, stirring occasionally to help it cook evenly, roughly two to three minutes for 31/35 count per pound, three to four minutes for 26/30, four to five minutes for 21/25, and about five minutes for 16/20. Don’t rely solely on these times. The best way is to watch for the color to turn pink, break into one after three-fourths of the cooking time, and taste one when you think it is ready.

As soon as the shrimp finish cooking, plunge them into an ice bath and let cool for at least double the time that they cooked. Stir as needed to help cool the shrimp evenly. Peel as soon as the shrimp are cool; they peel easily if you do this as soon as they have cooled, so don’t let them sit for too long.

To peel, grab the tail with your dominant hand and use the thumb of your other hand to break the shell of the shrimp where it connects to the feet. Rotate each section of shell toward the top and around to remove every section, leaving the last section with the tail. Leaving the tail will help serve the shrimp so you have something to grab onto. Keep the shrimp refrigerated until ready to serve.

Shrimp Cocktail
Serves 4 to 5

1 pound shrimp, any size
Cook shrimp and cool; keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with one or both sauces.

Black Pepper Aoli
Makes 1 cup sauce, enough for 3 to 4 pounds shrimp2 cloves garlic
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper (more if desired)
Juice from ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
Salt to taste

Microwave garlic cloves about 10 seconds to soften and mellow the flavor. Cut off the hard end of the clove; mash clove with the side of the knife, then mince. Add other ingredients and season with salt as needed. Leftover aoli may be refrigerated for up to a week.


Cocktail Sauce
Makes 1 cup sauce, enough for 3 to 4 pounds shrimp

1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Juice from ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
¼ to ½ teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (more if desired)

Mix all ingredients together. Adjust seasoning with Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco as desired. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for 1 to 2 months.