|Alternative names||Shrimp cocktail|
|Main ingredients||Prawns, cocktail sauce|
Prawn cocktail, also known as shrimp cocktail, is a seafood dish consisting of shelled, cooked prawns in a cocktail sauce, served in a glass. It was the most popular hors d'oeuvre in Great Britain, as well as in the United States, from the 1960s to the late 1980s. According to the English food writer Nigel Slater, the prawn cocktail "has spent most of (its life) see-sawing from the height of fashion to the laughably passé" and is now often served with a degree of irony.
A dish of cooked seafood with a piquant sauce of some kind is of ancient origin and many varieties exist. Oyster or shrimp dishes of this kind were popular in the United States in the late nineteenth century and some sources link the serving of the dish in cocktail glasses to the ban on alcoholic drinks during the 1920s prohibition era in the United States.
In the United Kingdom, the invention of the Prawn Cocktail is often credited to British television chef Fanny Cradock in the 1960s; however, it is more likely that Cradock popularised her version of an established dish that was not well known until then in Britain. In their 1997 book The Prawn Cocktail Years, Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham note that the prawn cocktail has a "direct lineage to Escoffier".
Nigel Slater says "It is all in the sauce" and that "The true sauce is principally mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and a couple of shakes of Tabasco."
The chef Heston Blumenthal states that prawn cocktail is his "secret vice", "When I get home late after working in the Fat Duck there's nothing I like better than to raid the fridge for prawn cocktail". Blumenthal notes that it is best to use homemade mayonnaise, and recommends adding chopped basil and tarragon.
The television chef and writer Delia Smith states that the best version is with prawns that you have cooked yourself, and that in the 1960s it was "something simple but really luscious, yet over the years it has suffered from some very poor adaptations, not least watery prawns and inferior sauces".
According to the chef Jamie Oliver, the prawn cocktail is a "wicked little starter ... guaranteed to please your guests". His recipe includes garlic, cucumber, mint, salad cress and crabmeat, which demonstrates the versatility and adaptability of the basic concept.
As Hopkinson and Bareham note in The Prawn Cocktail Years, what was once considered to be the "Great British Meal" consisted of Prawn Cocktail, followed by Steak Garni with Chips and Black Forest Gateau for dessert, commenting that "cooked as it should be, this much-derided and often ridiculed dinner is still something very special indeed".
Before the 1992 British general election, the Labour Party campaigned to win the support of business and financial leaders by persuading them that they would not interfere with the market economy. The campaign was lampooned as the "Prawn Cocktail Offensive".
The ubiquity of the prawn cocktail has led to such products as prawn cocktail flavour crisps, which are still one of the most popular varieties of this snack food. Prawn cocktail flavour crisps were the second most popular in the UK in 2004, with a 16% market share.