The origin of Shimp Cocktail is a bit unclear. Some say it's so named for the cocktail of condiments in the sauce, others say it's because they are traditionally served in cocktail glasses--a clever repurposing of unused stemware during Prohibition. Whatever the case, Shrimp Cocktail is a quintessential retro American dish that's undergone little innovation over the past century.
At its best, Shrimp Cocktail is a titillating appetizer with plump juicy shrimp doused with lemon juice and dipped in a sweet spicy sauce that goes down kicking courtesy of the horseradish. Unfortunately, frozen precooked shrimp and jarred sauce make many experiences akin to dipping a spongy hockey stick into a vat of red corn syrup.
I've updated the classic with Asian flavours, replacing the ketchup with a mixture of fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce, the Tabasco with Thai sweet chili sauce, and the horseradish with wasabi. To get the shrimp to fulfill their destiny, I gently poached them in a ginger, lime and cilantro broth which keeps them moist and tender.
It's not hard to do, and I think there are a lot of other interesting flavour combinations that could be employed here... plum with Sichuan peppercorns.... roasted red pepper with pimenton... Just make sure you use the best quality shrimp you can get, they are the centerpiece of the dish after all.
For cocktail sauce
- Remove the shells from the shrimp being careful to leave the tail intact. Devein the shrimp by cutting a slit all the way down the back side (opposite where the legs were), and removing any brown stuff. Put the shells in a large saucepan along with the water, sugar, salt, cilantro, ginger, chili and lime peel. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes then strain the the stock.
- Add the strained stock back into the pan along with the sake and boil for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol in the sake. Add the shrimp to the hot stock, cover, then turn off the heat. depending on how large the shrimp are, they will need to poach anywhere from 8-10 minutes.
- When the shrimp are cooked, plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and refrigerate until you are ready to serve (up to one day).
- For the cocktail sauce, put all the tomato, tomato puree, Thai Chili sauce, and fish sauce in a nonreactive pan and simmer over low heat until the tomatoes have mostly disolved into the sauce (about 20 minutes). Remove from heat and all the cocktail sauce to come to room temperature. Add the lime juice and wasabi and stir well to make sure there are no clumps of wasabi. Chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
- To serve, put a small bowl in the middle of a large plate, add the cocktail sauce to the bowl and lay the shrimp around the bowl.