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This post was featured on Freshly Pressed in Jan 2011!

If you have ever travelled near the Texas-Mexico border and stopped at a repurposed snow-cone shack for a cup of shrimp cocktail and wondered what the heck was in it, keep reading.  Even if your travels have never brought you this way, read on.

Apparently, there is a difference between what Canadians consider to be a shrimp cocktail, and what my southern family thinks this should be.  An argument that could start a year-long debate was averted by accepting that a rose by any name would still smell as sweet,  and a shrimp would taste as scrumptious. 

The Canadian version, as I will refer to it, consists of big cooked shrimp and a tomato-based horseradish sauce.

To my family here in the south, shrimp cocktail looks more like ceviche.

Either way you want to prepare a spicy and fresh shrimp appetizer suits me just fine, what matters is enjoying the time spent with those sharing the food.

Here’s how to prepare the two variations of shrimp cocktail seen above.

The Canadian Version

You will need big shell-on shrimp (10-15 per pound size, ask your fish guy), depending on how much your crowd loves them, buy 3-5 per person or what you can afford.

Simply clean the shrimp by removing the shell, keeping the tails on so you have a handle for dipping.  I find the easiest way is to gently fold at the seam of the tail section, the connective shell structure will pop so that the body portion can be removed without ripping the tail apart.  I always remove the digestion tract (I won’t eat shrimp with it left in – ew).  Toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and transfer to a baking sheet in a 400ºF oven for 10 minutes.  You can flip them over after about 7 minutes but they will cook just fine on their own.

The dipping sauce for this cocktail consists of the following:

  • horseradish (from a jar, creamed is fine)
  • chili sauce (also jarred, I found it next to the Dijon mustards at my local grocery)
  • Ketchup
  • fresh lemon juice
  • Worcestershire sauce

Mix equal parts of the chili sauce and ketchup in a small bowl.  Add about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, or a light squeeze of half a lemon.  Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and stir to incorporate.  If you like a fiery shrimp dip add a good amount of the horseradish, if you are not partial to the heat you can leave it out entirely and still enjoy yourself.  I added 3 teaspoons of horseradish and everyone loved it, however we tend to like heaps of wasabi on our sushi as well.   

The Mexican Version

Under the direction of mom, I was tasked with the appetizer to our family gathering.  She called it shrimp cocktail and then went on listing the ingredients I would need to prepare the dish.  My hubby and I looked at her quizzically – do you mean ceviche?  No, it’s shrimp cocktail.  It was like trying to explain that a crepe and a pancake are in fact two different things, however they do share some of the same ingredients and look pretty similar.  Just let it go, I thought.  All I wanted to do was eat, and helping in prep means we eat all that much sooner.

This version has a few more ingredients than the road-side original.  In no particular order, you will need:

  • 4 cups of cooked baby shrimp, the frozen ones work great
  • 6 – 8 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
  • 2 large avocado, cubed
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 – 2 roasted Poblano peppers, diced
  • 6 Serrano or jalapeño peppers, diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro (about 1/2 cup when chopped)
  • 1/2 Orange pop bottle
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • big pinch of salt

Toss everything in a large bowl.  You can make this ahead of the party but leave out the cilantro and avocado until serving time. 

Spoon into glasses and provide tortilla chips and crackers for munching.

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