How to Make Shrimp Cocktail

5 from 4 votes
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Learn how to make shrimp cocktail and impress your guests! It’s not as hard seems, and it will cost you FAR less than buying it pre-made!

Shrimp being dipped into a bowl of homemade cocktail sauce

Save Money! Make it on Your Own

A good price for decent cocktail shrimp is upwards of $12 to $15 per pound. And 1 pound of shrimp doesn’t go way far when you are entertaining a lot of people. Well, I have a secret for you — it doesn’t HAVE to be that expensive. You can make your own shrimp cocktail for literally HALF of the cost AND it tastes way better because you are making it fresh. You don’t get weird smelling, bouncy 3-day-old shrimp that has been sitting in the store’s refrigerated deli counter. Trust me, you are going to be impressed with how good this tastes and how cheap and easy it is to make! No one will have to know you spent as much on the shrimp as others may have spent on chips and dip.

A plate of prepared cocktail shrimp with lemons for garnish

Fresh, Raw Shrimp is Best

Before we get started, here’s a little tip for you: the “fresh” shrimp that you see in your store’s meat department isn’t really fresh. OK, maybe if you live in Alaska or Maine or wherever and it was fresh caught that morning. But for the rest of us, I can guarantee you the shrimp you are seeing behind the glass was frozen and has just been thawed out. It wasn’t fresh caught that day, or the day before, or probably even in the last week.

A bag of frozen, uncooked shrimp, an onion, a lemon, garlic, bay leaves, and parsley on a counter top

If you want to eat shrimp that actually tastes fresh, cut out a step and ask for it frozen. If you want it to taste even better, ask for the “wild caught” shrimp unpeeled, raw, and preferably de-veined unless you don’t mind having to devein the shrimp yourself. I have found shrimp like this on sale for $5 a pound. You can take it home and keep it frozen until you want to use it (if you get it thawed from behind the counter and freeze it, you will be freezing it for a second time and it won’t taste as good).

Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

Want to save even more cash? Make your own homemade cocktail sauce, too (with stuff I bet you have in your fridge right now)! I have provided the recipe below and it is wonderful. You will never buy the bottled stuff again.

Close up of a small bowl of cocktail sauce

How to Present Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail is a naturally pretty appetizer for a party. It is also easy to garnish. Usually just some parsley and fresh lemon wedges will do the trick. Here are a few more presentation ideas, depending on what you are going for:

  • Party style (on a platter) – This is how we present the cocktail shrimp in the recipe below. If you think the shrimp might be sitting out at room temperature for a while, it is a good idea to present the shrimp on a bed of ice cubes either on a platter or a shallow serving bowl. Make sure to either have a bowl of lemon wedges on the side or placed on the platter with the shrimp. Also remember, it’s better to have too many lemon wedges than not enough. 
  • Individual servings – For this presentation, you are aiming for single-servings with everything in one little cup or glass. I like to put a spoonful of cocktail sauce in the bottom of the cup or glass, then hang the shrimp over the rim. Depending on your serving vessel, you can decide how many shrimp to include. If you are using a shot glass, you will probably only be able to fit one shrimp. If you are using a cocktail glass, you can likely fit 3-4 shrimp over the rim. Garnish each with a lemon wedge and parsley. 
  • Ceviche style – For this style, I usually like to use the smaller shrimp but you can use medium sized shrimp and pull the tails off and cut them in half or thirds. Place the shrimp in a large bowl with chopped, fresh tomatoes, red onion, avocado, jalapeño, chipped cilantro, a dash of hot sauce, a little kosher salt and black pepper, and toss with lime juice. You can even add chopped cucumber or celery. Serve in a large serving dish or portion into individual serving cups. I like to serve this style with tortilla chips, but that is totally optional. 
A platter of cocktail shrimp next to a cup of cocktail sauce

More Shrimp Appetizers for a Party

Looking for more tasty shrimp recipes to serve at a party? Here are some more tasty shrimp appetizers to try:

A top view of cocktail shrimp with a bowl of homemade cocktail sauce

How to Make Cocktail Shrimp

5 from 4 votes
Learn how to make shrimp cocktail and impress your guests! It's not as hard seems, and it will cost you FAR less than buying it pre-made!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Seafood
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients

Cocktail Sauce:

Instructions

  • Put water or broth in a large stock-pot. Add onion, garlic, lemon (lightly squeeze lemon into the water and then throw the entire lemon halves into the water as well), thyme, and bay leaves. Season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes before adding shrimp.
    A pot with water, lemons, onion, and bay leaves
  • Add shrimp and simmer about 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of the shrimp) or until the shrimp curls up and turns pink and is no longer transparent.
    Two shrimp on a wooden spoon
  • Quickly drain (discarding everything but the shrimp) and place the shrimp in a bowl of ice to cool quickly and to halt cooking.
    Shrimp being drained in a colander
  • Peel the shrimp (leaving the tail on if desired) and serve. If not serving immediately, refrigerate until ready to serve.
    Cooked shrimp in a bowl with ice cubes

For the Cocktail Sauce:

  • Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve.
    Ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and tabasco sauce in a small mixing bowl

Nutrition Information

Calories: 130kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 16gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 122mgSodium: 481mgPotassium: 410mgFiber: 1gSugar: 10gVitamin A: 239IUVitamin C: 21mgCalcium: 79mgIron: 1mg

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About the author

Erica Walker

Erica lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband, Jared, an attorney, and her beautiful three girls. Beyond the world of recipes, she loves adventuring with everything from kayaking, to cruising, to snowboarding and taking the family along for the thrill ride.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I agree! If you can’t find fresh shrimp, use frozen. Tastier and probably less risky! Your cocktail sauce recipe sounds delicious!

  2. One time when I was trying to get shrimp at the meat counter, they were out of what I wanted, and the guy told me that the shrimp they put out is just from the package out of the freezer, anyway, and that I could buy the same stuff in the freezer section. I’ll never go to the counter again.

    1. Right? I don’t get why the thaw it out for you. I would SO much rather have it frozen and thaw it myself than have it sitting out and thawing behind glass all day.