For his coming birthday, the chef Fred Morin of Joe Beef in Montreal wants to fulfill a childhood fantasy: designing his own shrimp cocktail-themed ice cream cake at Baskin-Robbins. In his mind, the cake resembles a party ring of shrimp, complete with faux red cocktail sauce.
Mr. Morin, who turns 47 on Jan. 1, said that as a child, “the reason you wanted to get a job was to buy more ice cream cakes, shrimp rings and Hot Wheel cars.”
Sometimes as an adult, you still just want a lot of a really good thing. Reserved for special occasions, like New Year’s Eve rendezvous, shrimp cocktail is arguably on the top five list of really good things. And when you make it at home, you can eat as much of it as you want — maybe even a whole party plate.
If you’ve ever tried to down an entire 32-ounce platter of shrimp cocktail from Costco by yourself, you know that it can be difficult.
David Sun Lee, a shrimp devotee (and a photo editor at the University of Toronto), got halfway through one of those platters before he had to pause. “I think I was a combo of full and not really enjoying it anymore,” Mr. Lee, 43, said.
When Andrew Whitenight, who uses the singular pronoun “they,” worked at a Whole Foods in Philadelphia, their colleagues often took advantage of the employee discount to buy the party-size ring of shrimp cocktail for lunch — one platter per person. “I can still picture the break-room fridge piled up with almost empty trays of shrimp,” Whitenight, 33, recalled.
What is it about shrimp cocktail that makes us want to eat more of it than is humanly necessary?
Maybe it’s that it feels like a celebration even when celebrating feels uncertain. Maybe it’s that eating lots of shrimp cocktail is a dream deferred: When you order it at a restaurant, you often get a lousy portion of only four or five shrimp. Making it in your own kitchen allows you to fulfill that fantasy of eating six, 10 or even 20 in one sitting. (Where possible, questions of sustainable and ethical consumption should be considered, starting with knowing where your retailer is finding its shrimp.)
When you’re eating that much shrimp — and even when you’re not — it’s essential that they be perfectly cooked. This recipe prevents the shrimp from cooking to a tough, rubbery state and maximizes flavor by gently poaching them in a deeply seasoned broth of salt, chile powder and celery seed. Rather than washing away all that seasoning by draining the shrimp and plunging them into a bath of ice and water, here you stop the cooking by adding ice directly to the broth, a method that the chef and cookbook author Molly Baz landed on while creating a shrimp cocktail recipe for Bon Appétit in 2018.
When it comes to dipping sauces, the world is your crustacean. Go for a classic cocktail sauce with the sharp brightness of lemon and horseradish. Or prepare a simple garlicky dill butter, which makes the shrimp taste somehow of lobster. Better yet, reach for a comforting, warmly spiced honey mustard, because you always need a creamy option.
One sauce is grand, but three is a party — even if you’re eating the whole plate on your own.
Recipe: Shrimp Cocktail