For a fun, interactive appetizer, Vivian Howard serves shrimp cocktail with Tartar Sauce and Cocktail Sauce. This dish can easily be made a day ahead to cut down on prep when you have company coming.
Although there are very big shrimp available for the cocktailing, Howard prefers 21/25s. That means there are between 21 and 25 shrimp in a pound. Any bigger and she thinks shrimp’s flavor and texture starts to suffer.
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 pounds 21/21 shell on shrimp
½ cup kosher salt
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup olive oil
For the shrimp, use kitchen shears to cut through the shell along the shrimp’s curved back. This will open up and expose its intestinal track. Wipe that away with a paper towel. Once you’ve eviscerated all your shrimp, dissolve ½ cup salt and ½ cup sugar in 6 cups warm water. Pour that over your shrimp and let them brine for 30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Often I season the water with lots of sliced lemons, vinegar, onion, smashed garlic, and herbs. This is totally optional and an added bonus so use the aromatics you have on hand, and don’t stress out about this part. When you’re water is at a rapid boil, take the shrimp out of their brine and drop half of them into the pot. Stir the shrimp around and watch as they begin to turn pink. Let them cook for no more than two minutes. After 60 seconds I lift a shrimp out and cut through its thickest part. If it’s nearly opaque, I start taking them out of the water with a slotted spoon. Spread them onto a baking sheet with sides. Slide that into your fridge or freezer. Cook and go about cooling the remainder of your shrimp the same way. A lot of people cool their shrimp down by shocking them in an ice bath. While I’m a huge fan of ice baths for the most part, I don’t use them for shrimp. I think the “shock” of it changes the texture of the shrimp and if by chance your cooking water was flavored in any way, the ice bath would wash that flavor away. Still, it’s very important to cool the shrimp down quickly, so don’t skip the baking sheet, fridge step.
Once your shrimp have cooled, peel them leaving the tails in tact. Toss the shrimp with the ¼ cup olive oil and serve cold with the Cocktail and Tartar Sauces.
Cocktail Sauce and Tartar Sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, divided
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
1 1/2 cup mayo
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon rinsed and chopped capers
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup minced dill pickle
Make the cocktail sauce by stirring together the lemon zest, ketchup, ¼ cup lemon juice, horseradish and Worcestershire.
Make the tartar sauce by combining the mayo, herbs, capers, garlic, minced pickle and the remaining tablespoon lemon juice.
Serve with cooked, cooled shell-on shrimp.