Plump and Tender Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

Gently poaching shrimp in a flavorful broth is the key to the best shrimp cocktail. Photograph: Daniel Gritzer. Video: Serious Eats Video

Why It Works

  • Using a court bouillon (a flavorful, aromatic broth with white wine and lemon juice) produces deeply flavored shrimp.
  • Starting the shrimp in a lower-temperature cooking liquid, then raising the liquid to no more than 170°F (77°C), produces the plumpest, most evenly cooked texture.
  • Shelled shrimp absorb more flavor from the broth than shell-on ones.
  • A dry brine of salt and baking soda makes the shrimp even plumper.

Shrimp cocktail may be simple, but there are still details that go into making it the best it can be. For the plumpest, juiciest, tastiest shrimp, we poach them in a flavorful broth, being careful to not let the temperature go over 170°F (77°C). Serve them chilled with piquant cocktail sauce, and it'll become clear why this dish is a classic.

Recipe Facts

Active: 35 mins
Total: 70 mins
Serves: 4 to 8 servings

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  • For the Shrimp:
  • 2 pounds (900g) large or jumbo shrimp, shells removed (except for tail portion) and reserved, deveined if desired (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (28g) kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 quarts (1.9L) water
  • 2 cups (480ml) dry white wine
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced (optional)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 (2-inch) knob fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs fresh tarragon (optional)
  • 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • Fresh juice of 1 lemon
  • For the Cocktail Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) store-bought or homemade preserved horseradish, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. For the Shrimp: In a large bowl, toss shrimp with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the baking soda until evenly coated. Transfer to the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled, about 30 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, combine 2 quarts water with white wine, celery, onion, fennel, garlic, ginger, tarragon, parsley, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons salt. Add reserved shrimp shells. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then lower heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Strain out and discard solids and return broth to pot.

  3. Fill a large bowl with ice water. When shrimp are chilled, add to pot with broth. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until temperature reaches 170°F on an instant-read thermometer and shrimp are just cooked through; adjust heat to make sure temperature does not go over 170°F.

  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to zipper-lock bags, making sure not to crowd too many shrimp into each bag. Seal bags, removing as much air as possible, and submerge in ice water, moving shrimp around in each bag, until cooled. Transfer zipper-lock bags to refrigerator until shrimp are thoroughly chilled, at least 30 minutes.

  5. For the Cocktail Sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, and ground coriander and garlic if using. Season cocktail sauce with salt and pepper.

  6. Spoon cocktail sauce into a small bowl and serve with the chilled shrimp alongside.

Special equipment

Instant-read thermometer, zipper-lock bags


Devein the shrimp if you prefer by slicing along their backs and removing the vein (see the video here for step-by-step instructions).

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