Before you can have great shrimp cocktail, you have to do 2 things: buy the right shrimp and cook the shrimp the right way. The right shrimp is nothing less than wild-caught American shrimp. If you’re buying shrimp from Asia, your supporting a system that uses slave labor, where the shrimp are fed chemical pellets and swim in feces. If it doesn’t say wild-caught American shrimp on the package or at your local seafood store, it’s crap. Give your store owner hell for selling it.
Cooking shrimp the right way is something I learned living in the South. My wonderful friends and neighbors taught me many things about food, and the right way to cook shrimp is near the top of the list.
Shrimp was never meant to be cooked to death. It doesn’t matter if you start with fresh shrimp, store-bought shrimp, or even frozen shrimp…the same rules apply: 1) Season your water. 2) Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it get happy for 20 minutes. 3) Drop in the shrimp and raise the heat. 4) Remove the shrimp AS SOON AS the water returns to a boil.
The seasoning for the water, commonly called shrimp boil, makes or breaks the flavor of your shrimp. For years, I used Zatarain’s Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil in a bag. And it was good. But at some point, I realized I had to get serious and make my own boil.
2 quarts water
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 lemon, squeezed, then drop the lemon in
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon brown mustard seed
1 teaspoon dry thyme
Combine all the ingredients in a 4–6 quart pot. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, put a lid on the pot, and let it simmer for at least 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the lid and pour in your shrimp. (I prefer unpeeled.) Stir well, bring the heat back up to high, and remove the shrimp AS SOON AS it returns to a boil! The shrimp are cooked! Done!
Strain the shrimp and place them in a bowl with crushed ice on the bottom. Add more crushed ice on top of the shrimp, and place the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Freshly shucked oysters and clams, or in this case, beautiful boiled wild-caught American shrimp, call for an equally amazing cocktail sauce…and this sauce kicks butt! And it features a key ingredient that you might not expect: vodka. The small amount of vodka in the mix keeps the cocktail sauce from freezing solid when stored in the freezer. Just scoop out what you need, let it thaw, and put the rest back in the freezer until next time.
2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s
Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.