Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with a homemade cocktail sauce elevates the boring party appetizer to new flavor heights. You can make the savory spiced cocktail sauce days ahead. With help from the seafood counter, even the shrimp is an easy fix. This recipe will be the go-to starter for your soirees and parties.
What is Shrimp Cocktail?
Shrimp Cocktail, also called Prawn Cocktail, is a seafood dish of peeled shrimp served with a tomato-based dipping sauce. “Cocktail” is in the name because of how you serve it: in a glass. Shrimp cocktail is an appetizer mostly served at cocktail parties, but it can also be served as a snack.
Many countries have a version of this dish. In Mexico, coctel de camarones submerges the crustaceans in a tomato juice concoction. Europeans, especially, like to serve their shrimp cocktail with a sauce of mayonnaise and ketchup: Marie Rose sauce. The history of the shrimp cocktail here in the States began with a different star altogether. Oyster cocktail was more like the Mexican (and other Latin American countries) coctel de camarones. Freshly shucked oysters were drowned in a tomato juice mixture and drank from a glass. How that evolved to this modern-day version is a tale for another post. In other words, no one knows.
The oyster was replaced with shrimp at some point in this recipe’s history. But not even decent shrimp. Traditional shrimp cocktail is not impressive. At least, not to me, it isn’t.
Do you serve Shrimp Cocktail raw?
The old oyster cocktail was served with raw oysters. But not shrimp cocktail.
Shrimp cocktail is commonly made with boiled shrimp. Which, again, is why I think the traditional appetizer is so blah. People thought sucking any flavor from the shrimp by boiling it past the point of no return was a good idea. I mean, it’s probably because dumping the decapods in a vat of water was the easiest way to make it in bulk. It makes sense when you consider that this was a dish served to large parties. But, I mean, when has boiled meat ever been flavorful?
What do I need to make Shrimp Cocktail?
You need 2 pounds of shrimp (less if you’re not hosting a crowd) to make this recipe. Nothing smaller than extra-large shrimp will do here. There’s no point in serving stupid small crustaceans. You also need seafood seasoning, olive oil, horseradish, sofrito (optional), Worcestershire sauce, pepper, salt, lemon juice, and ketchup. If you’re a fan of spice, add a little cayenne pepper to this list.
A sheetpan and two mixing bowls (or one if you want to clean one out), a whisk, and a pair of tongs are all the equipment you need.
What is in Cocktail Sauce?
The basic cocktail sauce contains ketchup, lemon juice, and horseradish. But ain’t nothing about me basic, so I hype mine up. Horseradish is a root that you have to grate unless you buy it prepared. Always use prepared horseradish, don’t go messing about with the root. It just takes too long for this recipe. Choose regular or extra-hot depending on how much spice you want your sauce to have. Horseradish doesn’t taste spicy like chile pepper. It is a more nasal-clearing spice. If you have tasted wasabi with your sushi, that’s the flavor you can expect.
On the contrary, you want to use freshly squeezed lemon juice for this recipe. That bottled stuff doesn’t taste as bright as fresh. I add more flavor with Worcestershire sauce. It gives the cocktail sauce a great umami flavor. Sofrito is optional, but it adds aromatic onions and garlic to the sauce without the fuss of chopping them up. Finally, salt and pepper go into the cocktail sauce to taste.
What makes cocktail sauce taste the way it does?
Cocktail sauce does have a ketchup base, so use a good-quality one. If you have ketchup in your house, you probably already love that brand, so use that. The combination of ketchup with horseradish gives the cocktail sauce its unique flavor.
The sauce is stupid-crazy to make. Dump the ketchup, horseradish, sofrito, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper into a bowl. Stir it together. That’s it.
What are some ways to change up the sauce?
Again, add more heat to the sauce by using extra-hot horseradish, a 1/4-teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or a couple of dashes of your favorite hot sauce. You can switch up the lemon juice for lime juice as well. To add an even more unique flavor, replace the ketchup with prepared chili sauce or spicy ketchup. You can, again, omit the sofrito if you don’t have it.
How far ahead can I make the cocktail sauce?
The cocktail sauce is totally make-ahead friendly, too. You can make the cocktail sauce a week in advance and store it in a jar or container in the fridge. The longer the sauce sits, the more blended the flavors will be.
For now, leave the sauce in the mixing bowl, cover it, and keep it in the fridge. I prepare my cocktail sauce at least 1 hour before I plan to roast the shrimp so the flavors can marry. You want to let it sit for at least 30 minutes before serving it.
Can I serve the roasted Shrimp Cocktail without the sauce?
You don’t have to serve the roasted shrimp with the cocktail sauce. You can serve the shrimp with fresh lemon wedges, Marie Rose sauce, or chili sauce. Or nothing at all. Marie Rose sauce is a cocktail sauce with mayonnaise. Blend in 1/2-cup of mayo with the rest of the ingredients.
The shrimp is also flavorful enough to eat on its own. Speaking of which, we should address the shrimp.
Do I have to peel the shrimp?
I’m cheap. But you already know that if you’ve been reading my articles for a while. Because I’m cheap, I tend to process my food at home. I buy chicken whole and cut it down to usable pieces. I also buy my shrimp barely processed. If I know I’m going to make a seafood stock in the coming weeks, I’ll buy the shrimp head-on. Since I have no plans to do that soon, I bought the shrimp for this recipe head-off. You can purchase shrimp whole (head, shell, and tails still intact), shell and tail-on, peeled with tail on, or peeled and deveined.
I buy mine head-off. The less processed the shrimp are, the cheaper they are. Shrimp for shrimp cocktail is always peeled. No one wants to wrestle with peeling the shrimp after, and definitely not when they’re trying to eat them. So, you’re going to peel them before seasoning and roasting them. You can buy them tail-on if you want/need a shortcut. Tail-on means they are peeled, but the tail is still left on. Tail-on is best for this recipe because shrimp cocktail is meant to be eaten with your fingers. You want to give your diners something to hold onto. Think of the tail as the built-in fork.
To peel them:
- Pinch the tail at its base- right where it meets the shell.
- Use your other hand to pull off the legs.
- Use the side of your thumb to push the shell up from the belly or bottom of the shrimp.
Pinching the tail while peeling the shell ensures the tail stays on the shrimp. Continue peeling the remaining shrimp this way. You can save the shells to make seafood stock or discard them.
What is that black line on the shrimp?
The black line that runs down the shrimp’s back is its intestinal tract, which is filled with unappetizing grit. You definitely want to remove it before you season and roast the shrimp. There’s also a thinner, less visible line on the bottom of the shrimp, which is its circulatory system. I remove that one as well, but it’s less gross, so you can leave it.
The top black line needs to go, though. Just the thought of eating that should motivate you to grab your paring knife.
To devein the shrimp:
- Run the tip of your paring knife from where the head was down to the tail.
- Use the tip of the knife or a toothpick to lift the intestinal tract up so you can grab it with your fingers.
- Pull the dark tract out and drop it onto a paper towel.
If you want to remove the circulatory system, repeat these steps on the underside of the shrimp.
Continue deveining the remaining shrimp this way. Rinse them 3 or 4 times in cold water. Shrimp slime produces foam, so rinse them under cold, running water until they no longer produce that foam. You can prep the shrimp a day ahead and store it in a covered container in the fridge. I like to put them on a bed of paper towels when I do this. It helps blot up any remaining water from the rinsing stage.
How do I season the shrimp?
It’s too easy to season this shrimp. Pat the shrimp as dry as you can with paper towels and put them into a mixing bowl. Toss them in olive oil (you can also use vegetable oil) until completely coated. Add the seafood spice blend (or use Old Bay seasoning) and give them another toss.
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C) and grab a sheetpan.
How long do I roast them?
Arrange the shrimp on the sheetpan in rows, ensuring they’re not overlapping. Don’t grease the pan. The oil on the shrimp acts as grease. I can fit 2 pounds of shrimp on one half-sheetpan. However, if your pan is smaller, you might have to split them up and roast them in batches.
Place the pan of shrimp into the oven and roast them for 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and use a pair of tongs to flip the shrimp over. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 4-5 minutes or until the shrimp are a bright pink color and are slightly curled.
Can I roast the shrimp ahead?
Don’t overcook your shrimp. You know the shrimp is properly cooked when the bodies are slightly curled. If the tail is touching the head area, the shrimp are overcooked and will be tough. You can still eat them, but they won’t be their best. Remove the shrimp from the pan once the shrimp are done. If there is a lot of liquid on the pan, you can blot the shrimp with paper towels to dry them.
You can roast the shrimp a day ahead and store them in a covered container in the fridge. You definitely need to ensure you don’t overcook them if you do this. Tough shrimp just feels tougher when they are really cold.
How do I serve the Shrimp Cocktail?
To serve the shrimp cocktail, give the cocktail sauce another stir. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the sauce into the bottom of 6-ounce appetizer glasses. Next, hang the shrimp on the rim of each glass. This is an elegant and efficient way to serve this appetizer.
You can also spoon the sauce into a decorative serving bowl and set it in the center of a platter. Arrange the roasted shrimp around the bowl- tails facing out. This works great if you don’t want to serve the roasted shrimp cocktail in individual portions.
How do I keep it safe to eat?
You can portion out the roasted shrimp cocktail, put the glasses on a sheetpan and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them. Shrimp cocktail is served chilled, so this is an easy way to prep for a party or gathering.
I like to nestle my appetizer glasses in crushed ice set inside a shallow bowl. This is the best way to keep the shrimp at a safe temperature during an event. You can do the same or, for less formal gatherings, leave the shrimp in the fridge. Invite your guests to serve themselves.
How many shrimp per person?
This recipe makes enough for 12 servings, with a few straggler shrimp remaining. I usually eat those before everyone else gets theirs. It’s the chef’s tax. I portion out 3 shrimp per guest. Depending on how many people you have, you can serve more or less (but not less than 2).
Since this is an appetizer, you don’t need to fill people up on it. But, you can always serve this as a heavy hors d’oeuvre and give each guest up to 6.
Can I store leftover Shrimp Cocktail?
Store leftover roasted shrimp cocktail in the fridge, separate from the sauce, for up to 2 days. After which, you need to discard any uneaten shrimp.
Can I freeze Shrimp Cocktail?
You can freeze both the roasted shrimp and the cocktail sauce for up to two months. Place each in a covered, freezer-safe container and freeze until ready to use. Thaw them in the fridge overnight and serve as instructed.
I think one taste of this Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Homemade Sauce will turn you off of boiled shrimp cocktail forever. Let me know if I’m right in the comments below. Don’t forget to pin this recipe to your party board, too!
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Homemade Sauce
- half sheet pan
For the Cocktail Sauce (begin 30 minutes ahead)
- 1 cup (250 milliliters) ketchup
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon sofrito optional
- 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice (from 1/2 medium lemon)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the Roasted Shrimp
- 2 pounds (907 grams) jumbo shrimp peeled, deveined, with tails on (see post)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon seafood spice blend
Prepare the Cocktail Sauce
- Add the ketchup, horseradish, sofrito, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper into a 2-quart mixing bowl. Stir everything together until combined.
- Cover the mixing bowl and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 week.
Prepare and Roast the Shrimp
- Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C).Rinse the peeled and deveined shrimp 3 or 4 times in cold water. Drain the shrimp well after each rinse.
- Pat the shrimp dry and put them into a mixing bowl. Cover the shrimp with the in olive oil and seafood spice blend and toss them with your hand or a pair of tongs until completely coated.
- Arrange the shrimp on the sheetpan in rows, ensuring they're not overlapping. Place the pan of shrimp into the oven and roast them for 4 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and use tongs to flip the shrimp over. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 4-5 minutes or until the shrimp are a bright pink color and are slightly curled.
Plate and Serve the Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
- Remove the bowl of cocktail sauce from the fridge and give it another stir. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the sauce into the bottom of appetizer glasses. Next, hang the shrimp on the rim of each glass.
- If you'd rather serve it buffet style: spoon the sauce into a decorative serving bowl and set it in the center of a platter. Arrange the roasted shrimp around the bowl- tails facing out.
- Serve within 1 hour or return the shrimp cocktail to the fridge.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Choose regular or extra-hot prepared horseradish depending on how much spice you want your sauce to have.
- To make spicy cocktail sauce, add a 1/4-teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or a couple of dashes of your favorite hot sauce.
- Replace the lemon juice with lime juice.
- You can replace the ketchup with prepared chili sauce or spicy ketchup.
- If you don't have sofrito, add a 1/2-teaspoon of granulated garlic and granulated onion powder to the cocktail sauce to replace its flavor (optional).
- You can serve the shrimp with fresh lemon wedges, Marie Rose sauce, chili sauce, or plain. To make Marie Rose sauce, blend in 1/2-cup of mayo with the rest of the ingredients.
- Replace the olive oil with vegetable or canola oil.
Tips and Techniques:
- To cut down on prep time, purchase your shrimp peeled, deveined with tail on.
- If you use frozen shrimp, you must thaw them completely before seasoning and roasting them.
- You should be able to fit 2 pounds of shrimp on one half-sheetpan. If your pan is smaller, you might have to split them up and roast them in batches.
- Don't overcook the shrimp. You know the shrimp is properly cooked when the bodies are slightly curled. If the tail is touching the head area, the shrimp are overcooked and will be tough.
- If there is a lot of liquid on the pan after roasting, blot the shrimp with paper towels to dry them.
- Portion out the roasted shrimp cocktail in glasses on a sheetpan and store them in the fridge until you're ready to serve them. To serve: nestle the appetizer glasses in crushed ice set inside a shallow bowl. This keeps the shrimp at a safe temperature during an event. For less formal gatherings, leave the shrimp in the fridge and invite your guests to serve themselves.
- This recipe makes enough for 12 servings, with a a few shrimp leftover. Portion out 3 shrimp per guest.
Make-Ahead and Storage Instructions:
- You can make the cocktail sauce a week in advance and store it in a jar or container in the fridge.
- You can prep the shrimp a day ahead and store it in a paper towel-lined covered container in the fridge.
- You can roast the shrimp a day ahead and store them in a covered container in the fridge. You definitely need to ensure you don't overcook them if you do this. Tough shrimp just feels tougher when they are really cold.
- Store leftover roasted shrimp cocktail in the fridge, separate from the sauce, for up to 2 days. After which, you need to discard any uneaten shrimp.
- You can freeze both the roasted shrimp and the cocktail sauce for up to two months. Place each in a covered, freezer-safe container and freeze until ready to use. Thaw them in the fridge overnight and serve as instructed.