American Shrimp Cocktail
Travelling in the US, I love to discover foods that sounds the same as English versions but are in fact, quite different. It’s one of those “you’re like me but not like me” moments; a bit of a thrill, taking you out of the familiar. What we know as prawns, the Americans call shrimp. What we call shrimp, (the Morecambe bay tiny brown shrimp that we eat in tubs of brown butter) they probably don’t see as food at all. And if you ask for a shrimp cocktail, expecting a creamy mayonnaise-y Marie Rose sauce, you can get a bit of a shock to find a spicy tomato salsa, hot with horseradish instead. It’s a nice shock; you can repeat it at home easily and watch the surprise on your guests’ faces when you serve it.
A lot of American recipes for the spicy shrimp sauce are based on ketchup. I prefer this one, based on a jar of lovely tomatoes in the best juice you can buy – it gives such a sweet depth of flavour. But you could use a really good tin of tomatoes too – the Italian ones are very tasty.
If you can lay hands on fresh horseradish, it will blow your mind. The sauce gets hotter and more tingly over a day or so as the horseradish develops its spice, so make it ahead and keep in the fridge. Anyone with an allotment will probably be able to give you a section of horseradish root on a regular basis if you ask them – it grows like a weed and takes over; allotmenteers are always glad to dig up a bit and get rid of it to willing recipients. Some grocers also have “fresh” roots – generally wrapped in plastic like a dirty cucumber. A good jar of cream of horseradish would do fine, but not the ones combined with mayonnaise or cream.
Serves 6 Timings: 30 minutes
Drop the prawns into cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 1 minute and leave for 5 minutes to poach fully before draining and running under cold water to stop cooking. Drain and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. You can add a little extra flavour by adding a glass of white wine, some peppercorns and some herbs to the cooking water, but that’s optional.
Make the sauce: blend the tomatoes in their juice with the grated horseradish and the chopped chilli. Push through a sieve to remove the seeds and any stringy bits of root. Stir the sauce and add a generous splash of Worcester sauce, a good squeeze of lemon, the sugar and a couple of pinches of salt and black pepper. Stir, taste and adjust the seasoning – how much salt you need depends on the brand of tomatoes you used. Keep in a jar in the fridge for at least an hour before serving to chill and to develop the flavour. It will keep a couple of weeks in the fridge if you have made a lot and can be added to tomato soup or pasta sauces to give a little extra zing.
Arrange the prawns over a little lettuce and spoon the sauce over. Your guests can squeeze a bit more lemon over if liked. A slice of good bread would help mop up the juice.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.