It’s hard to take a prawn cocktail seriously. The pink, gloopy sauce, the (seemingly obligatory?) martini glass for presentation, the whole, unpeeled prawn on the side, clinging on grimly.
It can look a little silly, yes. And a prawn cocktail drowning in sauce with barely a handful of tiny shrimp is a sad thing indeed. But, as with most of these old-fashioned dishes, the constituent ingredients are a delight and, when combined with a little care, are greater than the sum of their parts. Give me fat, juicy prawns, dressed in a decent marie-rose, and you can present it to me however you wish. For some of course (I’m looking at my husband here), the retro presentation is a non-negotiable part of the whole affair. When he orders a prawn cocktail – and he will do so whenever it’s on the menu – he’s looking for your kitschest serveware and a whole school of prawns hanging jauntily from the edge of the glass.
Wherever your plating tastes lie, there are two keys to a good prawn cocktail and, let’s be honest, they’re pretty obvious: the prawns, and the cocktail sauce.
Tiddly little pale, watery prawns are a sin in a prawn cocktail, unless your only aim is nostalgia specifically for golf club catering in the 1980’s. I’m taking a tip from Delia here, and dry-frying the prawns before using them: caramelising the prawns in the pan is fantastic for their flavour, bringing out their sweetness, as well as giving them better structure and texture.
And as for the Marie rose sauce, it should be punchy rather than blandly sweet, and is helped along in this endeavour by a generous shake of tabasco and worcestershire sauce. It should generously coat the prawns, but not swamp them.
200g peeled, raw king prawns
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 shakes Tabasco
A good grinding of black pepper
2 gem lettuces
Cayenne pepper, for dusting
Makes: enough to serve 4
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
- First, butterfly the prawns. Run a sharp knife down the back of the prawn, slicing the prawn about halfway through, but not dividing it. If the black intestinal tract is present, lift it out completely with the tip of your knife. Heat a frying pan to medium hot and add the prawns. Cook on both sides for a minute or so each, until the prawn has opened up, and turned a dark orange. Set to one side to cool.
- Make the sauce by mixing together the mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, worcestershire sauce, tabaco, lemon juice and black pepper.
- Slice the lettuce into ribbons and arrange in a glass or small bowl. Turn the prawns through the marie-rose sauce, and spoon on top of the lettuce. Dust with a little cayenne pepper.