Is there anything better than shrimp cocktail? When I was a kid, and my mom and dad would take me with them to a "nice" restaurant, I always wanted the shrimp cocktail. This was really something, back in those days, before every grocery store started carrying bags of cheap, pre-cooked, farmed shrimp from southeast asia and giant mounds of bad shrimp cocktail started appearing right next to the bowl of pretzels at even the humblest of parties. Back in the '60s, a shrimp cocktail meant you were dining fancy. Its the kinda thing you would see on the table during a restaurant scene in Mad Men, A big, beautiful shrimp cocktail, sitting on the white linen tablecloth right between the martini and the ash-tray.
My love for shrimp cocktail even survived my years working for a chain of seafood restaurants where, starting when I was 12 years old, and continuing until I was 25,I would often literally spend an entire day, 8 hours, doing nothing but peeling shrimp. It got to the point that the stink of shrimp penetrated my skin and became a part of me that no amount of soap could wash off,no matter how hard I tried. Even then, in the middle of a day spent peeling shrimp, I would sneak to the walk-in and eat the shrimp cocktails stored there.
As the great Homer once said, when it comes to shrimp cocktail, "lamentably, my gastronomic rapacity knows no satiety."
Its true, big shrimp are mroe equal than little shrimp, and the more oxymoronic your shrimp, the better. I look for shrimp so big I could carve them like a turkey! These were enormous, U-8s, which means it takes less than 8 of them to make a pound, twice the size of what is usually sold as a "jumbo shrimp." I put a few bay leaves, some old bay, and a good amount of salt in the water, and then I poached these big guys gently for about 5 minutes. After that, I put them in salted ice-water flavored with lemon juice.
During my travels in Mexico I fell in love with the way a shrimp cocktail is made there, served in a liquid salsa which reminded me of a bloody mary. I was looking for something of this flavor in a sauce for these shrimp, so I thought I would make something like a pico de gallo, but with some of the characteristics of the traditional US "cocktail sauce." The thing that US cocktail sauce has, and mexican salsa doesn't, is sugar, but I knew I could supply that by adding a bit of Heinz Chili Sauce to the pico do gallo (chili sauce is a variant of catsup, and it is the base for properly made cocktail sauce, not catsup). The chili sauce also thickened the pico and made it a bit stickier. Its sorta like kinda a Heinz-Mex fusion, with roasted poblano:
So then it was just to put it on a plate and serve it forth! I am slowly learning the art of presentation, I like how this came out, but then, its shrimp cocktail, I like those wretched jars of "Sau-Sea" shrimp cocktail!