This classic recipe for shrimp cocktail makes an elegant appetizer that’s tender and full of flavor. With a quick and easy cocktail sauce for plenty of dipping, this appetizer is easy to throw together and perfect for entertaining, dinner parties, and holidays!
Some links in this post may be affiliate links. Should you click through to that product and make a purchase, 40 Aprons will receive a small compensation, at no additional cost to you. Anything mentioned here is referred solely based on my experience and satisfaction with the company and/or product, and not because of any potential commission. I’ll identify any affiliate links when they appear within the post!
What Makes This Recipe So Great
- It’s visually appealing! The vibrant pink and white of the boiled shrimp, the rich red of the cocktail sauce, and the bright yellow of the lemon wedges all make for a stunning presentation. Make it more elegant by serving the sauce in a shrimp-rimmed martini glass.
- Everything is served chilled! Free up your schedule by making this appetizer the night before or the morning of your event.
- Perfectly cooked shrimp are juicy, tender, and just a little firm, and the seasonings in this shrimp boil compliment the natural shrimp flavor beautifully.
- It’s super easy to adjust the quantities to make a shrimp cocktail for intimate date nights or large social gatherings – or even for a solo snack!
Shrimp Cocktail Ingredients
Horseradish – A potent root vegetable that gives a dish all the spice and flavor of a hot pepper without any of the pain.
Tarragon – This leafy herb has a subtle flavor that enhances fish, chicken, and sauces without overpowering the dish. Fresh tarragon can be hard to find – if you use dried tarragon in its place, you’ll want to increase the amount to achieve the same level of flavor. You can also use parsley if that’s easier to find.
Worcestershire – We love that hard-to-pronounce condiment for the flavor it gives our favorite dishes. It’s vinegar-based and flavored with goodness like molasses and tamarind, making it sweet and savory.
How to Make Shrimp Cocktail
The full recipe & ingredients list are below, but here you’ll find a quick overview for making this recipe perfectly, along with useful tips and info!
The shrimp cocktail sauce is so simple you could make it in your sleep. Just mix all the ingredients and stick the sauce in the fridge!
The shrimp are a little more involved, but honestly they’re just as easy, and your whole group will love the result.
Simmer your onion and all your seasonings for 15 minutes or so, then crank it up to a rapid boil. Toss in your shrimp and let them cook until they’re bright pink outside and not-clear inside. It won’t take long, so keep a close eye on them! When they’re ready, remove them from the boiling water and place them directly into an ice bath. After they’ve cooled off, serve them chilled on a platter with ice, cocktail sauce, and a lemon wedge garnish.
- You can store the cocktail sauce in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, and the boiled shrimp in the refrigerator for two to three days. Use an airtight container for each.
- If you live near the ocean, buy your shrimp fresh off the boat. If you don’t live near the ocean, head to the freezer section. Frozen shrimp are going to taste better than the “fresh” shrimp from the grocery store, which are really frozen shrimp that were thawed and then set out in an ice boat.
- For an extra-amazing shrimp cocktail, use wild-caught shrimp. Wild-caught shrimp are more flavorful than farmed shrimp. Take a second to check the package for that designation, but don’t lose sleep if you can’t find wild-caught at your local store.
- I recommend jumbo shrimp for this recipe, but you can use any size. The numbers on the bags tell you how many shrimp you’re getting and how big they are – you just need to know how to read them! Higher numbers mean more shrimp per pound, and that means smaller shrimp. 16/20 shrimp will be larger than 26/30 shrimp, but you’ll get fewer shrimp in the 16/20 bag than in the 26/30 bag.
More Appetizers for Entertaining
- Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
- Addictive Crab Dip
- Cream Cheese Sausage Balls
- Deviled Eggs
- Healthy Greek Appetizer Platter (Healthy Appetizers)
Hey – you’ve made it this far, and now we’re best friends! If you make this recipe, I’d love for you to give it a star rating ★ below. Make sure you follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, too!
For the Cocktail Sauce
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup chili sauce
- 4 tablespoons horseradish
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
For the Shrimp
- 3 quarts cold water
- ½ onion sliced
- 1 lemon halved, for shrimp boil
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and bruised
- 2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon optional, or parsley
- 1 tablespoon seafood seasoning such as Old Bay®
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound jumbo shrimp shell on, deveined
- ice bath for cooling shrimp
- 1 lemon cut into wedges, for garnish
For the Cocktail Sauce
- Whisk ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate at least 15 minutes, until chilled.
For the Shrimp
- In large pot, stir cold water, onion, garlic, tarragon, seafood seasoning, peppercorns, and bay leaf together. Squeeze in juice of lemon, then add lemon. Simmer and cook until flavors blend, about 15 minutes.
- Bring liquid to rapid boil, then add shrimp. Cook until shrimp are bright pink outside and no longer transparent in the center, about 3-5 minutes.
- Transfer shrimp to ice bath and immerse until cold. Drain water.
- Arrange cold shrimp on platter and serve with chilled sauce and lemon wedge garnish.
- The cocktail sauce can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
- Boiled shrimp can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Refrigerate within 2 hours of boiling.
If you enjoyed this recipe, be sure to check out 40 Aprons Premium! 40 Aprons Premium offers exclusive recipes, monthly meal plans, grocery lists, and more – all completely ad free!
Cheryl Malik is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind the healthy, flavorful, family friendly recipes at 40 Aprons. She’s been a blogger for 10+ years and is known for her delicious recipes and detailed recipe instructions. Cheryl is a mom of three who lives in Memphis, TN.