Aren’t prawn cocktails a bit outdated? Well, if a dish tastes good, I don’t see why we can’t keep serving it. As you will see, I have managed to bring this classic up to date. The thing with a good prawn cocktail is that the flavours simply work very well together. Crispy, slightly bitter lettuce, the sweet meat of the fresh prawns, the creamy avocado and everything bound together by a homemade Marie Rose sauce. Topped off with some dill and a twist of lemon. You can even try using fresh herbs like parsley or watercress if you are not so keen on dill. The latter’s quite aromatic and not everyone is a fan.
If you take a little care when selecting the ingredients and make your own sauce, you will be able to make a stand out starter that will delight your guests. Plus, it’s easy and very quick to make, and the recipe can easily be scaled up to just about as many people as you want, without significantly elevating your preparation time.
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History of the prawn cocktails
A small seafood salad with dressing, usually served in a wine glass or martini glass, was at one point top of the pops in British gastronomy. Today, no one can say for sure how the prawn cocktail came to life. However, it was most certainly boosted in Britain by the popular 1960’s TV chef Fanny Cradock.
It is debatable if she was the inventor of the dish, not least of the Marie Rose sauce. Nevertheless, what we can say is that the dish gained massive popularity here as well as in the US and on the continent from the early 1960s. Just about every restaurant whether it be a pizzeria, a steakhouse or something else, served you a prawn cocktail as a starter. This popularity lasted well through to the end of the 1980’s until people tired of it.
There were probably some restaurants at the time that set the bar too low and as a result this otherwise delightful starter gained a somewhat murky reputation. However, it would be a shame to completely forget it and let it slip into the history books rather than the cookbooks.
Selecting the best prawns, or shrimps if you like, is critical. In the summer months, I love to buy the fresh North Sea prawns and peel them myself. It’s a messy job but very enjoyable at the same time. It’s a bit like cleaning strawberries where you want to eat some as you progress through the heap. By the way, if you buy this type of prawns do not throw away the shells and heads. I always freeze them for later use. They are the perfect base for starting a prawn bisque.
If you can only get the frozen prawns, then go for the higher quality ones. They might cost a little more, but that money is well spent. Some of the bad reputation that clings to the prawn cocktail still today, comes from watery prawns, on watery lettuce with thin sauce. Therefore, defrost the prawns gently in the fridge during the day. Dry off the prawns lightly with some kitchen towel. Make sure that you get as much of the water out of the lettuce as you can, after having cleaned it. The moisture in this dish should come from the sauce. You can also use tiger prawns and only serve a few of them per person. In addition, this will give the dish a more modern look.
If you want to keep a bit to the retro vibe, you can of course still serve the prawn cocktails in martini or red wine glasses. Maybe you and your friends can throw a retro party. If, however, you are looking for something more modern, I recommend serving them in small low tumbler glasses. It takes the kitsch away and lifts the look to a more modern style.
If you are having a party you can also serve them as party food. A bunch of prawn cocktails in small glasses on a tray, with a spoon in each of them, will make friends and family swoon. Another cool way of serving it is on a leaf of lettuce. Use romaine salad if you want it to be extra crispy. It presents the dish beautifully and it’s the perfect portion size for a starter, or even a light lunch during the summer months.
I like to put avocado in my prawn cocktails. This is completely optional but there is just something about avocado and seafood that makes a brilliant combination. It’s the same reason why avocado regularly features in sushi. The flavours simply complement each other. I like to dress up the dish with a bit of dill and a sprinkle of paprika on the top but by adding a little caviar on the top you can make the starter deliciously indulgent. Some chefs use all sorts of different herbs, such as basil, tarragon or even mint! As you can see, this dish has more possibilities than you would think. Enjoy!
Prawn Cocktail with Avocado
Author: Michelle Minnaar
- 90g (3oz) mixed lettuce, washed
- 1 avocado, peeled and chopped
- 12 cooked king prawns
- 125ml (½ cup) Marie Rose sauce
- Paprika, for sprinkling
- Dill, for garnishing
- Arrange the lettuce on respective plates, then top with avocado.
- Place the prawns on the salad and add dollops of sauce on top.
- Sprinkle with paprika and garnish with dill.
- Use lettuce of your choice.
- Add more prawns, avocado and lettuce to turn the salad a main course.
- Use as much sauce as you like!
Serving Size 1 serving
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value
Total Fat 12.7 g
Saturated Fat 2.6 g
Cholesterol 2 mg
Sodium 61 mg
Total Carbohydrates 8.6 g
Dietary Fiber 3.9 g
Sugars 2 g
Protein 6 g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
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A special thanks to Kelly Reeve for assisting with the recipe shoot.