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Not My Father's Shrimp Cocktail

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We partnered with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board to share holiday recipes with a story that celebrate domestic seafood.

According to most people, the heyday of restaurant-style shrimp cocktail—five chilled jumbo prawns arched over the edge of a shapely glass, cradled in horseradish-laced ketchup propped up by iceberg lettuce, and garnished with a lemon wedge—spanned just three decades: the sixties, the seventies and the eighties.

Louisiana shrimp just hanging, waiting for a dip in the creole-spiced remoulade.
Louisiana shrimp just hanging, waiting for a dip in the creole-spiced remoulade. Photo by James Ransom

But I’d argue it still qualifies as classic American comfort food, because in my world, the appetizer symbolized my dad’s willingness to splurge in what was a particularly trying period of time economically. If shrimp cocktail arrived prior to his strip steak (medium well, of course) on the one night a year we all got dressed up to go out to a fancy restaurant, I pretty much knew that most things were going to be OK.

Recently, when fellow Food52er Aliwaks (who’s more of a real-life friend now after moving to Maine 18 months ago) and I were discussing possible menu items for our second Butter+Salt pop-up restaurant with American comfort food as the theme, we started playing with the idea of chilled, boiled shrimp and a dipping sauce. Maybe we could steam the shrimp in a ginger-lemongrass broth and base the dipping sauce on sriracha or Gochujang? Or possibly run with a Latin American shrimp ceviche with fresh tomatoes and chilies? Or play, perhaps, with Middle Eastern pantry supplies for our twist on the American classic?

One of the ideas that has survived our initial recipe testing cottons onto a creole-inspired shrimp remoulade dish commonly served as part of the Reveillon Dinner tradition in New Orleans on Christmas Eve. Similar to Italians with their Feast of the Seven Fishes, the Creoles, some of the earliest settlers in New Orleans in the 19th century, celebrated the start of Christmas Day once they’d returned from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with a huge feast that tapped into their regional fare: wild game, briny oysters and, of course, plump Gulf shrimp.


Remoulade, by its most basic definition is a pungent sauce or dressing resembling mayonnaise. It’s French in origin, where it began as a condiment for meat before it aligned itself with seafood on this side of the Atlantic. It usually includes savory herbs and other add-ins like capers, piccalilli, and anchovies. We’ve taken the liberty—and invite you to do so as well—to stir in anything you find comforting.

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Spicy Boiled Shrimp Cocktail with Smoky Remoulade

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Serves 4 as an appetizer

For Shrimp

  • 1 leek, white part only, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and cracked
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 16 jumbo raw shrimp, shelled (with tails on, though) and deveined

For Remoulade

  • 1/2 cup cream fraiche
  • 1/4 cup minced green pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Triscuits for serving
Go to Recipe

We’ve partnered with Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, which supports domestic, responsibly-raised seafood and a network of regional economies, to share seafood recipes with a story this holiday.

Tags: shrimp cocktail, remoulade, holiday appetizers