Ditch the bland, pre-cooked shrimp and learn how to effortlessly make cocktail shrimp from the comfort of your own home! This simple recipe for preparing raw shrimp utilizes the gentle cooking technique of poaching to ensure perfectly plump, juicy, and most importantly FLAVORFUL shrimp for cocktail – every time! Get ready to level up your shrimp game with this impressive, yet super easy restaurant-quality seafood dish!
Reader testimonial: Hands down the BEST recipe! It isn’t as much work as it seems and totally worth it. The shrimp turns out juicy instead of chewy and with a great subtle flavor. Never boiling shrimp again!” – Lorna
Update: This recipe was originally published in September 2015. I made updates to include more information about poaching shrimp to make cocktail shrimp at home. Plus, I added a recipe video showing you exactly how easy it is to make this shrimp cocktail recipe!
Ever wonder how to make cocktail shrimp at home? I’ve got you! Today we’re making the most irresistibly delicious cocktail shrimps you’ve ever tried!
But first, some honesty. To be completely transparent, I was never going to post this cocktail shrimp recipe, even though I make it all the time. Why? Although I use a few crucial tricks to ensure perfectly poached, juicy shrimp, I thought the recipe overall was a bit too simple.
However, I’ve prepared these plump shrimp for shrimp cocktail countless times over the years and my friends and family consistently insist it is far better than any shrimp cocktail offered at high end steakhouses. Everyone always asks my secret to getting the shrimp so flavorful and perfectly plump. And then they politely demand the recipe. Well, I’m finally caving to the peer pressure. And, I guess my secrets are about to be out of the bag. So without further ado, here’s how to cook cocktail shrimp like a pro:
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About this cocktail shrimp recipe
Not to toot my own horn, but I’m going to: these poached prawns really are absolute perfection! Pump, succulent, luxurious and unbelievable flavorful, these shrimp for cocktail shrimp have a marvelous melt-in-your-mouth, incredibly tender, and beautifully buttery quality that makes them just divine!!
In case you’ve purchased those pre-packaged trays of pre-cooked shrimp cocktail at the grocery store and found them to be rubbery and chewy, you can rest assured. This cocktail shrimp recipe is absolutely nothing like those!
Some poaching methods simmer plain shrimp in a bland broth and then shock them in ice water. While that method is fine, you will end up with lackluster poached shrimp. This simple cocktail shrimp recipe uses a few easy tricks, ensuring you get plump, flavorful and perfectly tender shrimp each and every time!
It all starts with a tossing raw, peeled shrimp in a mixture of baking soda and salt. Then, we move on to a simple, flavorful homemade poaching liquid made up of shrimp shells, beer, celery, onion, lemon and fresh herbs. The shrimp are slowly poached, which allows them to cook gradually without losing any moisture. Once they’re pink and just firm to the touch, they’re removed from the heat. Then, they are placed in a resealable bag to lock in flavor before getting submerged into an ice water bath. It’s as simple as that! No more overpriced shrimp platters or choking down chewy shrimp ever again!
What is poaching shrimp?
The poaching method of preparation yields a more tender, juicy, delicately cooked shrimp than cooking at higher temperatures such as with boiling water.
A poached shrimp is a shrimp that has been gently cooked by submerging in a liquid, as opposed to simmering or boiling. The liquid, known as a poaching liquid, is used to both cook and flavor the shrimp. The liquids used for poaching can include plain water, stock, wine or beer and they are typically flavored with aromatics, spices and citrus.
What is the best size shrimp for poaching?
While small shrimp are great for fried rice, pasta dishes and casseroles, larger shrimp are better for poaching.
The size of shrimp is measured by the number of individual shrimp in a pound. For example, the number of 16/20 indicates that there are between 16 and 20 shrimp per pound. The smaller the number in a pound, the bigger the shrimp. It is important to remember that broader labels such as “large” and “jumbo” are a general guide. These labels aren’t regulated and can vary greatly from seller to seller. Therefore, your best bet is to pay attention to the number of shrimp in a pound.
Sizes of shrimp best for poaching
- Colossal (or Jumbo): U15 shrimp = Under 15 shrimp per pound
- Extra Jumbo (Jumbo or Extra Large): 16/20 shrimp = between 16 to 20 shrimp per pound.
- Jumbo (or Large): 21/25 shrimp = 21 to 25 shrimp per pound
- Extra Large (or Large): 26/30 shrimp = between 26 to 30 shrimp per pound
Ingredients for the best cocktail shrimps
While poaching shrimp may sound fancy, it’s actually one of the easiest methods of cooking shrimp!
This shrimp cocktail recipe only requires 9 ingredients and the shrimp turn out perfect and juicy every single time! I’ve listed the ingredients I personally tend to use in the poaching liquid; however, this recipe is totally flexible! Feel free to customize the poaching liquid and use ingredients you love or have on hand! It’s a great way to use up vegetables you have discarded from other recipes (such as the dark green ends of leeks) and saved up in your refrigerator!
Ingredients in this poached shrimp cocktail
- Shrimp: I recommend larger sized shrimp for poaching. Make sure you defrost shrimp and clean the shrimp prior.
- Baking Soda: Tossing the shelled shrimp in a dry brine of baking soda and salt before poaching makes make the shrimp even plumper!
- Salt: Salt adds tons of flavor to the poaching liquid. You need 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per pound of shrimp. Plus, you need a touch of salt for the dry brine.
- Beer: Beer gives the liquid a rich flavor. You should use a beer you actually like to drink. I recommend a blond ale, pale ale, pilsner or lager. I always look for a local brew with a citrus-forward taste.
- Vegetables: Celery (leaves and stalk) and onion provide a foundation of flavor.
- Aromatics: Garlic and ginger add a depth of aromatic flavor.
- Parsley: Tender fresh parsley, stems and all, infuse a mild herbaceous flavor.
- Lemon: Fresh lemon juice brightens up the poaching liquid. (Don’t throw away the lemon peel – use the lemon zest as garnish.)
Variations and substitutions
- Wine: Swap out the beer for dry white wine.
- Fresh Herbs: Poaching liquids are a great way to use up any fresh herbs you have hanging around – dill, cilantro or tarragon all pair well with shrimp!
- Lemongrass: Crush up a stalk of lemongrass for citrusy, minty flavor.
- Leek: Chop up a leek to add mild, slightly sweet onion flavor.
- Fennel: Toss in a diced bulb of fennel for a light, bright and unique flavor.
What seasonings can I use?
You can use whatever seasonings you love when preparing shrimp cocktail! Below are a few seasonings that pair well with shrimp!
- Bay Leaf: Toss in one bay leaf to add a delicate, almost floral-like flavor.
- Black Peppercorns: Use 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns for every pound of shrimp.
- Creole Seasonings: Add in a tablespoon of creole seasoning for savory, herbal flavor.
- Old Bay Seasoning: Toss in a tablespoon of Old Bay for added peppery and smoky flavors.
How to prepare shrimp for shrimp cocktail
This shrimp cocktail recipe calls for poaching the shrimp. Poaching is an extremely quick and easy cooking process that results in perfectly plump shrimp every single time!
- Prep Shrimp: Use a small paring knife to peel and devein shrimp, reserving shrimp shells to the side. Then, place the shrimp in a large bowl and add the salt and baking soda. Toss everything to coat before covering the bowl and refrigerating for 30 minutes- 1 hour.
- Poaching Liquid: In a large pot, combine all the ingredients for the poaching liquid along with the shrimp shells. Bring contents to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Immediately return the liquid back to the pot and place over medium heat.
- Set up ice bath: Fill a large bowl with ice water and set out two large resealable bags. Set aside.
- Poach the shrimp: Add the shrimp to the poaching liquid – do not rinse prior! Poach, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through. Depending on size of shrimp, this will take anywhere from 1-5 minutes, depending on the size. TIP: Shrimp are done cooking when they form a “C” shape and are pink in color with some bright red accents. If shrimp are still translucent, they’re not yet done cooking.
- Shock the shrimp: Use a slotted spoon to transfer shrimp to resealable bags, dividing them in between the two as to not overcrowd each bag. Immediately seal the bags, removing as much air as possible, and submerge bags in the ice water. Transfer to the refrigerator and allow to chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce: Whisk together all the remoulade ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Serve: Serve your shrimp cocktail with remoulade sauce and lemon wedges on the side! Enjoy!
Tips for preparing raw shrimp for shrimp cocktail
- Toss the peeled and deveined shrimp in baking soda and salt. This keeps the shrimp super plump and prevents them from losing all their moisture when cooked.
- Prepare your own poaching liquid. You want your shrimp to absorb flavor as they cook, so make your own poaching liquid. And, make sure it’s flavorful and aromatic! Combining the shrimp shells, roughly chopped veggies and beer yields an incredibly tasty liquid, which adds lots of flavor to the shrimp.
- Poach the shrimp. Roasting, boiling or grilling can turn shrimp tough and rubbery. However, poached shrimp have a fantastic, delicate texture! Since poaching is a gentle cooking technique, it keeps the shrimp irresistibly juicy and plump!
- Seal in the flavor. This is the most essential tip! You took so much care to add flavor to the shrimp and keep them moist, so why rinse it off with shocking in an ice water bath?! You must place the poached shrimp into resealable bags BEFORE shocking them to stop the cooking. Simply placing the shrimp in sealed bag ensures all that delicious flavor stays in the shrimp. This is crucial.
Step-by-step photos: making cocktail shrimps at home
(Don’t forget to scroll down for the in-depth measurements and instructions in the complete printable recipe card at the bottom of the post!)
FAQs: frequently asked questions
How to peel and devein raw shrimp for cocktail?
This tutorial for how to prepare cocktail shrimp calls for raw thawed shrimp – with the shells on. You will need to peel the shrimp and use the shells in the poaching liquid. Shrimp shells contain so much delicious, briny flavor! They are key to making a quick poaching liquid with yummy flavor!
If peeling and deveining shrimp by hand seems intimidating or messy, have no fear! The process is super simple and not nearly as hard as you think!!
Peel shrimp the easy way!
- Remove the legs: While not necessary, I always start with quickly removing the legs. Use your hands to gently pull the legs off of the shrimp. Discard the legs.
- Peel off the shell: Use your thumbs to break open the shell along the underside of the shrimp. As the shell cracks open, peel it away from the shrimp.
- Leave or discard tail: I like to leave the tail piece on the shrimp for aesthetic purposes only. The tail acts as a little handle, making it easy for you to pick up, dip and eat your shrimp! However, you can remove it by pinching the tail where it meets the body of the shrimp. Gently pull and the shrimp should cleanly pull out of the tail.
To easily devein shrimp
- Score the back of the shrimp: Use a paring knife and gently run it along the length of the backs of each shrimp. Make sure you don’t cut too deep into the flesh, you just want to expose the veins.
- Look for the vein: You should see a long string running down the back of each shrimp, this is the vein. Not every shrimp will have a vein.
- Remove the vein: Use the tip of your paring knife, starting near the top and ending at the bottom, to very gently pull up on the vein. Remove and discard the vein.
How long do you boil shrimp for cocktail?
Cocktail shrimp should have a delicate texture – you want them plump and juicy, and not rubbery nor tough.
The precise length of time shrimp take to poach will depend upon the size of your shrimp. Poaching time can range from 1 minute for small shrimp to 6 minutes for colossal shrimp.
The best way to tell if shrimp are done poaching is by color, shape and feel.
- Color: Remove shrimp from the poaching liquid as soon as they turn opaque and pink with some bright red accents. If the shrimp are still translucent, they’re not done cooking.
- Shape: Shrimp reduce in size and curl as they cook. Perfectly cooked shrimp will form a “C”. Overcooked shrimp will curl tightly into a “O”
- Feel: Properly poached shrimp will feel just firm to the touch.
Can I use frozen shrimp for shrimp cocktail?
You can absolutely use frozen shrimp – it’s actually preferable to use frozen shrimp when making shrimp cocktail!
Fresh shrimp are wonderful if you live on the coast and are purchasing directly from a fishmonger. However, most people don’t have that option. Shrimp are highly perishable and the majority of “fresh” shrimp available at the store are actually thawed frozen shrimp. The shelf life of thawed shrimp is only a few days, whereas frozen shrimp retain their quality for several weeks.
Frozen shrimp are just as fresh as the day they were caught! The bags of frozen shrimp available at the store are comprised of shrimp that were frozen right on the boat as soon as they were caught.
If you can get your hands on truly fresh shrimp, go for it! If not, I highly encourage you to use frozen shrimp for the best quality and freshest taste!
How to thaw frozen shrimp?
For even cooking and the best plump (never rubbery!) texture, it’s imperative you thaw any frozen shrimp before poaching.
There are two safe options for properly thawing frozen shrimp:
- In the refrigerator: Place the unopened bag of shrimp in a large bowl or on a rimmed tray. Transfer the shrimp to the refrigerator and thaw overnight.
- In the sink: For faster thawing, place the unopened bag of shrimp in a large bowl of cold water and use a small plate or other heavy object to weigh the bag down. Turn on the faucet and lightly run cold water into the bowl, allowing the excess water to flow out of the bowl and into the sink. Depending on the amount of shrimp, they should thaw in 30-45 minutes.
Pro-Tips: Do not use hot water when thawing or the shrimp will cook inside the bag! Don’t open the bag of shrimp and force thaw them or the shrimp will absorb the water and become too soft.
How many cocktail shrimps per person?
There is a general rule for entertaining – when in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to be generous!
With that said, the exact number of shrimp cocktail you serve per person will depend on the size of the shrimp, how generous you want to be, and how many other appetizers you are serving.
As a general guideline, estimate two to three (medium to large) shrimp per person as an appetizer, if there are other nibbles available on the menu. However, if you are serving poached shrimp as the only appetizer, I would scale up the number of shrimp per person significantly.
Are shrimp for shrimp cocktail healthy?
Poaching is considered a healthy method of cooking, as it does not use fat to cook or flavor the food. Plus, cocktail shrimps have a variety of health benefits and a wonderful addition to a healthy diet!
Shrimp are low in calories, carbohydrates and fat and a rich in protein. They are also a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids and packed with several vitamins and minerals.
How long will cocktail shrimp keep in the refrigerator?
Store leftover cocktail shrimps in an airtight container, or resealable bag, in the refrigerator. Properly stored, this cocktail shrimp recipe will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
Serving the best shrimps for cocktail
How to serve cold cocktail shrimp as an appetizer?
Once you know how to prepare raw shrimp for shrimp cocktail, there are numerous ways you can serve them – and none of them are wrong! I suggest you serve your poached prawns and dipping sauce in whatever manner suits you and “atmosphere” of your party. Below are a few suggestions for how to serve shrimp cocktail:
Shrimps cocktail ideas
- Mini martini glasses or shot glasses. For a fancy shrimp cocktail serving idea, try looping the shrimp over the edge of the glass and fill the inside with cajun remoulade sauce or cocktail sauce!
- Shrimp cocktail bowl. Fill a large glass bowl or fish bowl halfway with ice and place a small bowl of desired sauce on top of the ice. Top the bowl with more ice, filling the ice around the small bowl of sauce, and then add the shrimp on top of the ice.
- Cold platter. For a chilled shrimp cocktail platter, place your platter in the freezer to chill. When ready to serve, add the shrimp to the top of the cold platter along with a bowl of desired sauce.
Don’t forget to add a few lemon wedges for guests to squeeze over their jumbo shrimp cocktail! Also, you can add a few sprigs of fresh parsley for a bit of color and aesthetics if you like!
If you aren’t into shrimp cocktail, use these plump shrimp to make your favorite salad, slaw, tacos, burritos, bowls, and more.
What sauce for shrimp cocktail?
Now that you know how to prepare shrimp for shrimp cocktail, it’s time to cover the accoutrements – dipping sauces – my favorite! For the best cocktail shrimp experience, I recommend making your own sauce. However, you can buy the jarred stuff if you prefer – no judgement here!
- Cocktail sauce: A horseradish-forward ketchup cocktail sauce is a classic pairing.
- Cajun remoulade: This Cajun flavored sauce is my personal favorite! It’s creamy, rich, tangy, slightly spicy, and 100% delish with juicy poached shrimp.
- Tartar Sauce: If you like fish and chips, this sauce is for you.
- Tropical fruit sauces: Any sort of fruit based sauce, such as mango or pineapple sauce works perfectly.
- Hot sauce: Like things simple and spicy? Your favorite hot sauce is an easy option.
- Marie Rose Sauce: Also known as Thousand Island. This neutral sauce lets the flavor of the shrimp shine!.
- Avocado Sauce: Love avocados? Try this homemade Avocado Green Goddess Dressing.
- Aioli: Any flavor of creamy aioli pairs beautifully! Try a spicy chipotle aioli, fragrant dill aioli or zesty lemon aioli.
- Pesto: Luscious pesto is a wonderful, fresh option! Switch things up with a sun-dried tomato pesto.
How to use cocktail shrimp?
You can serve shrimp plain as a healthy snack, as a standalone appetizer, or as a healthy main dish. Alternatively, they can be used in any recipe that calls for chilled shrimp.
How to use leftover cocktail shrimp
- Cold shrimp salads – Transform your plump cocktail shrimp into a creamy chopped shrimp salad.
- Spring rolls – Use leftover shrimp inside fresh rice paper rolls. Swap out the chicken in this spring roll recipe and use shrimp instead.
- Sushi rolls – If you’re not a fan of spring rolls, use cocktail shrimps to make sushi rolls.
- Sandwich rolls – Prefer a toasted bun to sushi rice and rice paper? Make a creamy shrimp salad and stuff it inside a soft roll. Or simply swap out the crab and use shrimp to make this crab sandwich roll.
- Leafy green salads – Toss ’em on your favorite salad recipes for more protein and sustenance.
- Grain bowls – Pile them on your favorite rice and grain recipes. My favorite quick and easy dinner involves leftover shrimp and dirty rice or this fluffy curried rice recipe.
This cocktail shrimp recipe is not only easy-peasy to make, it is also delicious and perfect for any occasion!
So, go grab your favorite brew, a pound or two of jumbo crustaceans, and follow this tutorial on how to prepare shrimp for shrimp cocktail. Then, get ready to do a little double dip and have yourself a homemade poached shrimp cocktail smorgasbord your tummy soon won’t forget.
Until next time, cheers!
More fast and flavorful shrimp appetizer recipes!
If you love this fresh cocktail of shrimps, try one of these quick and easy shellfish recipes next:
How to prepare the best cocktail shrimp with raw shrimp👇
Best Cocktail Shrimp Recipe
- 1 Medium Size Mixing Bowl
- 1 Large Pot
- As Needed Resealable Storage Bags
- 2 Pounds Large or Jumbo Shrimp (SEE NOTES)
- 2 TBS + 1 tsp Kosher Salt - DIVIDED
- ½ tsp Baking Soda
- 6 Cups Water
- 2 ½ Cups Beer (SEE NOTES)
- 2 large Stalks Celery – roughly chopped
- 1 medium Yellow Onion – roughly chopped
- 3 large Cloves Garlic – smashed and peeled
- 2-inch knob Fresh Ginger – peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 large sprigs fresh Flat Leaf Parsley
- 1 1/2 TBS Lemon Juice (juice of 1 lemon)
- Serving Suggestions: Remoulade Sauce or Cocktail Dipping Sauce, Lemon Wedges, and Fresh Parsley.
- Prepare Shrimp: Remove shells from shrimp, leaving tails intact and devein. Set shells aside (do not discard!) Place shrimp in a large non-reactive mixing bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the salt along with all of the baking soda. Toss to evenly coat. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes- 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, make the Poaching Liquid: In a medium pot combine – water, beer, celery, onion, garlic, ginger, parsley, lemon juice, remaining 2 tablespoons of salt and reserved shrimp shells. Bring contents to a simmer over high heat. Immediately reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes. Strain liquid through a fine-mesh colander and discard solids. Immediately return broth back to pot and adjust heat to medium. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set out two large zip-closure bags. Set aside.
- Poach the shrimp: Add the shrimp to the poaching liquid (do NOT rinse them prior). Poach until shrimp are just cooked through, stirring occasionally. Depending on size of shrimp, this will take anywhere from 1-5 minutes, depending on the size. TIP: Shrimp are perfectly cooked when they form a "C" shape and are pink in color with some bright red accents. If shrimp are still translucent, they're not done cooking.Tips: If you have a thermometer, you want your poaching liquid to stay between 170-180 degrees F.
- Shock the shrimp: Use a slotted spoon to transfer shrimp to Ziploc bags, dividing them in between the two as to not overcrowd bags. Immediately seal bags, removing as much air as possible, and submerge bags in the ice water (use a plate to weigh bag down if necessary). Transfer bowl to the refrigerator and allow to chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Serve shrimp cocktail with remoulade sauce and lemon wedges.
- Shrimp: I recommend you use at least jumbo shrimp (16/20s) for this recipe. However, you can use any shrimp you would like. Be sure to keep a careful eye if you using small shrimp as they cook fast!!
- Beer: I used Shock Top because I like the slight citrus flavor. However, you should use any beer you LIKE to drink! Or, you can substitute a dry white wine!
- Shrimp Poaching Method Adapted from SeriousEats
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