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The Perfect Prawn Cocktail Recipe With an Extra Special Kick

Gabriel Wilson loves to cook, eat tasty foods, and drink a glass of wine—without having to do the washing up.

Prawn Cocktail

Prawn Cocktail

Good vs. Perfect Prawn Cocktail

The prawns you choose for this starter make the difference between a good prawn cocktail and a perfect prawn cocktail.

Generally, you'll find better quality prawns at the fish counter in your local supermarket rather than in the frozen food section. If you're lucky enough to have a local fishmonger, that would be an even better choice.

Step 1: Prepare the Prawns


  • 500 ml water
  • Frozen prawns
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 small red chili
  • Handful of fresh parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed


  1. Bring 500 ml of water to the boil in a deep-bottomed pan.
  2. Add a good pinch of sea salt, lime juice, chili and crushed garlic.
  3. Add the parsley and the prawns.
  4. Slow simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. The prawns will turn a blushing pink and float on the surface when cooked through.

Cook's Tips:

  • Medium-sized (40/60) frozen prawns in their shell are the best prawns for this dish. Don't go for really small prawns they get lost among the salad leaf and sauce. Allow 8 to 10 prawns per person for a decent starter portion.
  • Remove the black line (i.e., digestive tract); it is easier to remove when the prawns are slighlty thawed rather than frozen or defrosted because the digestive tract is not soft like it is when the prawn is defrosted. Gently pull the head forward: you will see the tip of the line; using a tweezers grip the line and slowly pull it out. Of course if you have a prawn deveiner or a shrimp knife use that. A deveiner is a great tool and well worth the investment. A shrimp knife is an excellent tool, too. When using either the deveiner or the knife tool the prawns are better defrosted.

Make and Rate

Step 2: Make the Cocktail Sauce

While your prawns are simmering get on with the sauce. Your ingredients must be precise. The following will serve two portions:

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  • 3 tablespoons good-quality full-fat mayonnaise (low fat is a no no)
  • Dash of tabasco sauce
  • 1 large lime, juiced (add more or less to your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon thick tomato ketchup
  • 10 ml good-quality brandy (do not be tempted to use a cheap brandy, it will ruin this sauce)
  • 10 ml double cream, lightly whipped
  • Paprika to dust
  • Lime or lemon wedge to garnish


  1. Mix all the ingredients as listed, (except the paprika and lime) to a smooth even paste.
  2. Take care when adding in the cream; fold rather than mix.
  3. You want a nice shiny, thick substantial cocktail sauce: cover the mixture with cling film and leave in the fridge till required.
  4. This mix can also be altered to your taste, for example adding a little more tabasco if you like more of a kick or more brandy if you fancy more of a punch.

Step 3: Strain, Peel, and Rinse Prawns

Be careful not to overcook the prawns. Overcooked prawns are rubbery, dry and lack flavor. Pay attention as they will cook quite quickly, even slightly overcooked prawns will lose texture.

You want juicy mouth-watering prawns for the perfect prawn cocktail. Remember: cook on a slow simmer and once the prawns turn a blushing pink and begin to float they are cooked.

  1. Strain the prawns, cover and leave to sit for a further 5 minutes.
  2. Peel the prawns; remove the head first and work your way carefully down the body of the prawn till all the shell is removed.
  3. Give the prawns a quick rinse under a tepid running tap.
  4. Gently pat dry with kitchen paper or a tea towel.
  5. Squeeze over a little lime juice.

Step 4: Assemble the Cocktail

  1. Use a glass to serve your prawn cocktail; make sure it's wide enough to access the prawns. Long-handled spoons are a great buy and really work well with this starter.
  2. Wash and shred fresh crisp lettuce, cos lettuce works well.
  3. Put the prawns in a bowl, add a dollop of the sauce, and mix to lightly coat the prawns.
  4. Put a little lettuce in the glass add a couple of prawns and spoon over some sauce, continue layering.
  5. Make sure the last layer is cocktail sauce.
  6. Sprinkle over a dusting of paprika.
  7. Serve with a lime or lemon wedge.

Prawn Cocktail Lowdown

  • A prawn cocktail makes an excellent starter for all occasions.
  • A larger portion served with buttered brown bread makes a fabulous light supper.
  • Don't be tempted to use low-fat mayonnaise; it is not the same.
  • This cocktail sauce mix can be altered to suit an individual's tastes: adding more or less of each ingredient to make it your own.
  • Serving the prawn cocktails in a glass adds a little glamour and turns a simple starter into something of a showstopper.

Calorie Count

  • 1 tablespoon mayo = 90 calories
  • 1/2 tablespoon ketchup = 30 calories
  • 5 ml double cream = 15 calories
  • 5 ml brandy = 10 calories (on average)
  • Your cocktail sauce based on half the mix = 145 calories
  • Average prawn = 6 to 8 calories
  • Based on 10 prawns at 7 calories each, this starter = 215 calories

Cook's Tips:

  • You can assemble the prawn cocktails and leave covered in the fridge for up to 30 minutes before serving (longer than this and they get too cold for my preference). When you take them from the fridge leave for 5 mins before serving.
  • Choose a dry but fruity chilled white wine to accompany this dish. A sparkling Cava works very well too, especially at Christmas.

© 2011 Gabriel Wilson

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