What Is a Prawn Cocktail?

Christina Edwards

Prawn cocktail is a type of hor d'hoeurve, or appetizer, that is very similar to shrimp cocktail. This seafood dish is made with prawns, however, instead of shrimp. These are usually mixed in with a side of sauce made from mayonnaise, ketchup, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. This mixture is traditionally served on a bed of lettuce. Some modern chefs, however, also serve this shrimp dish over avocado chunks.

Modern chefs sometimes serve prawn cocktails over chunks of avocado.
Modern chefs sometimes serve prawn cocktails over chunks of avocado.

Technically, prawns are a type of shrimp, but their anatomies are somewhat different. Although prawns and shrimp are often thought to be the same, they are a little different. Prawns, for example, are usually larger than shrimp.

The prawn cocktail is a variation of the shrimp cocktail.
The prawn cocktail is a variation of the shrimp cocktail.

Prawn cocktail is a small seafood dish usually served before the start of a meal, as an appetizer or hor d'hoeurve. While shrimp cocktail sauce is usually served alongside the shrimp, prawn cocktail sauce is usually mixed in with the prawns. This mixture is then usually served in an attractive glass or bowl.

Though shrimp and prawns are often confused, shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata, and prawns are classified in the suborder Dendobranchiata.
Though shrimp and prawns are often confused, shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata, and prawns are classified in the suborder Dendobranchiata.

Fresh or frozen prawns can be used to make prawn cocktail. If the prawns are frozen, they should be thawed first, either in a refrigerator or in a large bowl of cold water. Uncooked prawns need to be cooked first, but pre-cooked prawns can simply be thawed.

Cooked prawns should be chilled in ice water or the refrigerator. The legs and shells of the pawns should then be removed. Any dark veins that run along the back and underside of the prawns are also removed. Some cooks prefer to leave the shells on a few of the chilled prawns, so they can be used as garnishes.

Mayonnaise is generally the base for prawn cocktail sauce. It is usually stirred together with ketchup, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Other ingredients, like lemon juice, garlic, pepper, or wine can also be added to the sauce.

Once the sauce is mixed thoroughly, it is usually poured over the prawns to coat them. A few lettuce leaves are then placed on the bottom or a glass bowl or goblet, and the prawns are served over the lettuce. Some cooks also cut an avocado into chunks and layer it between the lettuce and the prawns. The dish should be served chilled, and a lemon wedge or a plain prawn in its shell, with no sauce, can be added as a garnish.

Leftover prawn cocktail may be used to prepare a variety of other dishes.
Leftover prawn cocktail may be used to prepare a variety of other dishes.

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