Truly the Best Shrimp Cocktail Recipe Ever

Look, we know it’s a little ridiculous to call a recipe “the best,” buuuuttttttt this recipe is seriously THE BEST shrimp cocktail recipe ever.

We’ve never met anyone who thought differently once they’d tried it. The poaching method gives the shrimp a wonderful, delicate texture and flavor, and the sauce has a hint of gin in it, so.


The poaching liquid from this shrimp cocktail recipe makes a delicious, light broth for a small batch of soup — just the ticket the day after a party.

The Williams Sonoma shrimp cocktail recipe

This recipe is adapted from the Williams-Sonoma hors d’oeuvre cookbook, which I started using shortly after college and which helped me through many an early cocktail party. I think back then I was too green to know you could make shrimp cocktail more easily than this, otherwise I might never have gotten hooked on this version, which takes a little bit of extra effort.

Thank goodness I had no clue. 

The secrets to the most tender shrimp cocktail

There’s nothing tricky to do here, but it takes about an hour to shell the shrimp and use the shells to make a stock to poach the shrimp in. The poaching is genius, too — in three minutes, with only the residual heat from some stock you’ve just brought to a boil and then turned off — you get the most tender and wonderful shrimp with subtle hints of tarragon, coriander and vermouth. It’s not like any other shrimp cocktail.

I almost want to say I’m sorry, because you’ll never be able to go back.

The best shrimp cocktail sauce

The cocktail sauce, too, hits the nail right on the head.

You can tell for sure that all of this is true, because I’m talking about the food and the food only here, which is something you would only do when you absolutely can’t help it.

So. Be a star. Make the best shrimp cocktail ever. (And then click here. Don’t let that open bottle of gin go to waste.)

Truly the Best Shrimp Cocktail Recipe Ever

I know it's ridiculous to call a recipe "the best," buuuuttttttt this recipe is THE BEST shrimp cocktail. I've never met anyone who thought differently once they'd tried it. The poaching method gives the shrimp a wonderful, delicate texture and flavor, and the sauce has a hint of gin in it, so HI. You can make the sauce and shrimp a day in advance and just stir the parsley into the sauce and arrange it all on a platter right before serving.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Serves Serves 8


For the cocktail sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 teaspoon good gin
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley

For the shrimp

  • 1 1/2 pounds unpeeled jumbo shrimp
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons salt, divided
  • 1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 4 fresh tarragon sprigs
  • 1 lemon, halved


  1. Mix together the ketchup, horseradish, tabasco, gin, celery salt, salt and lemon juice. Chill until ready to serve. Stir in parsley right before serving.
  2. Peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails attached. Place peels into a large pot. Add water, 1 tablespoon of the salt, wine or vermouth, peppercorns, coriander seeds, bay leaves, onion, tarragon and lemon. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes more, then strain broth through a fine sieve into a fresh pot.
  3. Bring stock to a boil, then remove from heat. Add shrimp and cover. Leave for 3 minutes (still off the heat -- the shrimp "poach" in the residual heat and remain amazingly tender).
  4. Fill a large bowl with ice water and the remaining tablespoon salt. Add shrimp and leave until just opaque, 3 minutes or a shade more if the shrimp are very big. Chill in fridge (I usually wrap in paper towels and put in a gallon zip top bag) until ready to serve.


You can ask the fishmonger to peel and clean the shrimp for you. Just ask them to leave the tails attached and to give you the shells.

Save the delicious stock to use in risotto if you like.

Nutrition Information

Amount Per Serving:

Calories:: 122 Total Fat:: 1.3g Carbohydrates:: 10.4g Fiber:: 0.1g Protein:: 17.2g