Whether you are having just a couple of friends over for drinks or throwing a big bash, deciding on the appetizer menu has it challenges. There are so many considerations, like how much food, your guests eating preferences, and the ease of preparation being at the top of the list. One appetizer that is a great crowd pleaser is shrimp cocktail. I have yet to come across someone who does not like shrimp, unless they have a shellfish allergy.
I love shrimp cocktail and believe it is the cocktail party equivalent of the office water cooler. Everyone likes to mingle around the shrimp. It is a good place to catch up with your friends or introduce yourself to the other guests. Chatting and munching around the shrimp appetizer is an interactive icebreaker with a festive atmosphere. Politics and the opposing opinions are not discussed around the shrimp cocktail. Those heated discussions happen near the charcuterie platter where there are more questions than answers.
I discovered a shrimp cocktail recipe from Melissa Clark at the New York Times Cooking website. Her recipe reinforced a couple of ideas I already had. The first is roasting the shrimp instead of boiling them. I love roasted shrimp because the natural sweetness in shrimp becomes more concentrated. Also, I can season the shrimp any way I want, or not and it will still taste delicious. Often, boiling shrimp creates bland tasting waterlogged shrimp.
Second, she changed up the cocktail sauce to an aioli. It is a brighter and spicier dipping sauce and not too sweet. Have you ever tasted cocktail sauce that is nothing but ketchup and horseradish? Yuck. This recipe makes a cocktail sauce with traditional ingredients, but with a different technique.
There is one problem I have with her aioli recipe: it is impossible to make as directed. I have tried and tried on multiple occasions, but I cannot get the sauce to the consistency of an aioli. Whenever I make it, the cocktail sauce is runny, like a salad dressing, and nothing like aioli. Maybe, based on the photograph with her recipe, that is how it’s supposed to be. I wonder.
Try these other great appetizers with Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
After going through a bottle of Aleve to relieve the cramp in my right arm from whisking oil and egg yolk for hours, I gave up and adapted her recipe. Remember, ease of preparation is a key consideration making appetizers. So, whenever I make roasted shrimp cocktail I do one of two options. One, I make homemade mayonnaise using my immersion blender and then add the remaining ingredients. Or, I use store-bought mayonnaise and mix everything together. Making the cocktail sauce with the mayonnaise makes it creamier, but it still has the great bite from the horseradish and Sriracha sauce. This might be considered cheating, but I am a much happier person.
Roasted shrimp cocktail is an easy appetizer to make and a great crowd pleaser. It takes less time to roast the shrimp than it does to boil water for a traditional shrimp cocktail recipe. The shrimp is sweet with and added kick from garlic and paprika that taste delicious as is, or spiced up the creamy cocktail sauce. Serve this appetizer at your next get together and the shrimp platter will be empty before you know it.
Roasted shrimp cocktail is an easy appetizer to make and a real crowd pleaser. I like to season the shrimp before I roast it to add more flavor. This is a creamy cocktail sauce made with homemade mayonnaise, horseradish and sriracha. It you want a tangier sauce you can mix in some yogurt or sour cream. Keep the creamy ingredients on the light side so the horseradish and sriracha are prominent.
This recipe is adapted from, Roasted Shrimp cocktail with Aioli by Melissa Clark from the New York Times Cooking website.
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup / 125 ml homemade mayonnaise or store bought
Peel the garlic and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the green germ from the middle and rough chop the garlic. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and make a garlic paste with the side of your knife. Angle the knife so the blade is almost parallel to the work surface and press down on the garlic with the side of the knife and smush the garlic. Move the knife back and forth pressing down on the garlic. Periodically wipe the collected garlic off the blade of the knife. Continue to press back and forth on the garlic until a smooth paste. Set aside.
Add the mayonnaise, garlic paste, sriracha, horseradish, ketchup and lemon juice to a small bowl and mix. Correct the seasoning to desired taste. Spoon into a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Can be made one day ahead.
Preheat the oven to 425˚F
Place the cleaned shrimp on a sheet pan then add the remaining ingredients to the shrimp. Toss the shrimp with your hands to get the seasoning and oil mixed evenly over the shrimp. Place in the oven and bake until the shrimp is just done. The shrimp will no longer be translucent. It is very eay to overcook the shrimp, so watch them closely. The shrimp should take 7 to 10 minutes. I start checking at the 5-minute mark to gauge the progress.
Serve the shrimp warm or at room temperature with the creamy cocktail sauce.
How many servings you will get will depend on how many shrimp you get per pound. For an appetizer, I figure 4 shrimp per person when I have a small get together. For a larger crowd, I will not count out the shrimp, but buy a general amount and hope everyone gets at least one.
For a serving size for an entree, I figure 6 shrimp served along with other side dishes like pasta or rice, and vegetables.
I could serve shrimp every night and my sons would never get tired of it. Mention “Shrimp for dinner,” and their eyes would light up and they would go into their happy dance. That happy dance is just as adorable at 26 years old as it is at 3 years. Their expressions of joy and love could turn on me instantly with expression of “H o w D a r e Y o u,” if the shrimp portions were unequal. We may have started our dinner giving thanks and praying for world peace, but I could see their intense gaze upon each person’s plate scanning and counting the shrimp to make sure they were not cut short. God forbid someone in the family received one more shrimp than anyone else. If looks could kill, the scowl-glare of, “MORE SHRIMP” would do the job instantly. We may not be able to solve world peace, but at least we work very hard to keep the peace at home.
Looking though my recipe collection I realized that I have a large number of shrimp recipes. Most of them I have not used because having shrimp on the menu is usually a spontaneous decision, dependent on price and something I can quickly make with vegetables and pasta. (My kids favorite.) I did come across one recipe in my collection, Stir-Fried Sesame Shrimp and Spinach by Martha Rose Shulman at NY Times Cooking, that nudged me to remember a homework assignment I completed for an online class, The Science of Gastronomy at Coursera.org. Two science professors from the University of Hong Kong taught the course and focused the learning objectives on how cooking techniques are based on science, and how to use this science to make you a better cook.
In Ms. Shulman’s recipe she uses a Chinese technique to clean shrimp with salt and water. Flash several years back in time, my homework assignment for The Science of Gastronomy, tested the effects of soaking, (brining) shrimp in salt and water to see if there was any effect on taste and the mouth-feel of cooked shrimp. Reading this recipe was bringing it all back to me. I have the best intentions to remember everything that I have ever learned, but usually I need a clue and a bonk on the head to stir the memory bank. I just had to test this out again.
In summary, if you want to make shrimp talk add salt while you are cleaning the shrimp and they will become squeaky. The brining technique produces crunchy-squeaky-tender morsels of shrimp that squirt in your mouth. My homework assignment had us soaking shrimp in salt water, plain water and the control shrimp was left alone. The shrimp in the salt water definitely was more crunchy than the other shrimp samples. Soaking the shrimp in plain water left them mushy. As I understand it, the shrimp cells absorb the water and cause the cell tissue to collapse, giving you a mushy mouth-feel. Salt will draw the moisture out of the shrimp cells, but keeps the moisture absorbed in its own cells. The heat from cooking causes the salt to release the moisture out of its cells and back into the shrimp, making it tender, crunchy and squeaky.
Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe instructed you to rinse the shrimp with water then toss the shrimp with salt, then rinse again and repeat. I found this method to be more effective at producing crispy shrimp than the soaking method of my homework assignment.
She also instructs you to use a “generous” amount of salt for the brining. I do not know exactly what a generous amount means, and I am cautious about adding too much salt to my food. My idea of generous may be different from her idea of generous, and different from your idea of generous. In the interest of keeping the salt to a minimum, I measured 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of Kosher salt per pound of shrimp for the brine. If you wish you can use my recipe as a guide, and carefully adjust the amount of Kosher salt you use to brine the shrimp to suit your tastes. The teaspoon of Kosher salt was my idea of generous and I was happy with my crispy, not salty, shrimp.
Don’t throw out the shrimp shells. They make a simple shrimp stock that can be used in any recipe that calls for fish stock or clam juice. (See notes in recipe for instructions.)
I made very slight changes to the recipe because I do not own a wok. I used a sauté pan, deglazed the pan with wine, and added preserved lemon. Both additions are optional and if you are using a wok you won’t need to deglaze the pan. On one occasion, I substituted the spinach with white chard – stems and all, and was equally delighted with the results.
Sautéed Sesame Shrimp with Spinach is an easy recipe, creating a delicious and healthy dinner in 15 minutes. No matter what variation you use, spinach or chard, wok or sauté, there is a generous amount of shrimp with each serving to satisfy all the shrimp lovers in your home. Bring on that happy dance.
Sautéed Sesame Shrimp with Spinach is an easy dinner that creates moist and crispy shrimp. This recipes features brining the shrimp in salt and water to produce succulent, crispy and squeaky shrimp. This technique can be used when ever you want to stir-fry or sauté shrimp.
This recipe is very slightly adapted from Martha Rose Shulman recipe Stir-fry Sesame Shrimp with Spinach from New York Times Cooking
1 lb large shrimp
About 2 tea Kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning
2 Tbl canola oil, or light sesame oil
1/8 tea sugar
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 - 1/2 tea dried red chili flakes
2 Tbl sesame seeds, toasted
1 lb cleaned fresh spinach, stems trimmed
1/4 cup dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, or water, or stock (optional)
About 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1/4 of a preserved lemon, diced (optional)
Place the peeled shrimp in a colander and rinse with water. Sprinkle a rounded teaspoon of Kosher salt all over the shrimp and carefully toss the shrimp. Toss the salted shrimp for about 1 minute, then rinse the shrimp with water. Repeat the whole process one more time.
Combine about 1/4 teaspoon of salt with the sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan, big enough to accommodate 1 lb of spinach- I used a 14" sauté pan, till very hot but just shy of smoking. Add 2 Tbl of oil to the pan and swirl the oil around to cover the bottom of the pan.
Add the minced garlic, minced ginger, and chili flakes to the pan and very briefly sauté, stirring the ingredients around so that they do not burn.
Add the shrimp and spread evenly across the pan in one layer. Let the shrimp cook undisturbed for about 1 minute. After one minute, stir the shrimp around and sauté for one minute more.
Add the sesame seeds and spinach and carefully stir to evenly cook the spinach for about a minute. Add the sugar/salt mixture and just shy of a 1/4 cup of dry white wine, (if using). Stir the spinach and scrape off any brown goodies stuck the bottom of the pan.
Continue to cook until the spinach is wilted and the shrimp is just cooked through and pink. About 2 more minutes.
Add the preserved lemon, if using, then drizzle the dark sesame oil over the the whole dish. Toss and serve with your favorite grain like rice or couscous.
I made this dish with chard and enjoyed it just as well. If you decide to use chard instead of spinach, remove the shrimp from the pan after the first 2 minutes of cooking, and set aside on a plate..The chard will take longer to cook, especially if you are using the stems, than the spinach and you do not want to over cook the shrimp. When the chard is cooked through, add the shrimp back in the pan and continue to cook until the shrimp is just cooked through and pink.
Add the shrimp shells of 1 lb of shrimp to a medium sauce pan and gently sauté on medium high heat. Once the shells have turned pinkish and no longer translucent add water into the saucepan to cover the shrimp shells about 2 inches. Add some aromatics to the shrimp and water, such as celery, parsley and a bay leaf, then cook the stock at a simmer for about one hour. Drain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and dispose of the shrimp shells and aromatics. Cool the shrimp stock and refrigerate and use within a couple of days or freeze the stock. The stock should keep well in the freezer for 3 months. Makes about 3 cups of stock.