Classic Shrimp Cocktail

classic shrimp cocktail
Photo: Thomas Loof
Prep Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
50 mins

One of Martha's favorite entertaining strategies is to serve a pared-down—but still special feeling—menu. Her classic shrimp cocktail is a perfect example: it's an easy but elegant starter that shines because it calls for the very best ingredients—including a quick homemade cocktail sauce. When preparing this spread, use high-quality, sustainably sourced shrimp, and plan on about three to six shrimp per guest.



  • 2 pounds large shrimp (16-20 count), peel on

  • 2 large carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into thirds

  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, cut into thirds

  • 4 sprigs thyme

  • ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 2 lemons

Cocktail Sauce

  • ¾ cup ketchup

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh horseradish or prepared horseradish

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)


  1. Shrimp: Cover a rimmed baking sheet with ice (to later cool down shrimp). In a large stockpot combine 12 cups water, carrot, celery, thyme, 1 tablespoon salt, and peppercorns. Cut one lemon in half; squeeze half the juice into the water and add the rind. Cut remaining 1 1/2 lemons into small wedges for serving; set aside.

  2. Bring water to a boil. Add shrimp, cover; remove from heat. Let stand until shrimp are bright pink and curled; 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to prepared tray of ice to cool completely. Once cool, shrimp can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days.

  3. Cocktail Sauce: Meanwhile, whisk together all ingredients until combined. (Cocktail sauce can be made ahead; refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 week.)

  4. To Serve: Peel shrimp, leaving tails intact if desired. Using a paring knife, make a shallow cut along backs of shrimp to remove vein. Arrange shrimp neatly on a platter, shingling them slightly to make a pattern, and serve chilled with cocktail sauce and reserved lemon wedges on the side.

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