Ah, the iconic shrimp cocktail. Especially popular in the 19th-century, one theory has it that the dish was served in a cocktail glass because of the ban on alcoholic drinks during the 1920’s Prohibition. Like Prohibition, the days of limp shrimp with a side glop of ketchup and a few tears of tasteless iceberg lettuce are long past. Today, the dish, which typically stars on appetizer menus, has evolved to eye-candy shrimp cocktails with sassy sauces and whimsical presentations. Here are 12 creative takes on shrimp cocktail that would make Forest Gump’s’ Bubba especially proud.
St. Elmo Steak House, Indianapolis, Indiana
Funny for a restaurant located in a landlocked state that it’s the shrimp cocktail that put this steakhouse on the map — in fact, it is the only appetizer on the menu. “People come from all over the world to have the shrimp cocktail,” says a restaurant spokeswoman. Named The World Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail, it stars four jumbo shrimp served with the restaurant’s spicy, signature cocktail sauce. The local restaurant, which opened in 1902, shares its secret for what makes its shrimp cocktail so sought-after — pssst, it’s the shaved-daily horseradish (the restaurant typically goes through 5,760 pounds of horseradish a year, or 15 to 20 pounds per day). In fact, the shrimp cocktail has been deemed one of the world’s spiciest dishes. Pssst — another secret, you can now buy a bottle of the sassy sauce for bloodies at home. Make a reservation at St. Elmo Steak House.
Legal Harborside-Floor 2, Boston, Massachusetts
Time to chill. Legal Seafood’s flagship restaurant presents its Shrimp Cocktail in a hollow ice globe. A hole is poked in the orb so the succulent shellfish can be placed inside. The sphere eventually melts, of course — all good things must come to an end, after all. Make a reservation at Legal Harborside-Floor 2.
Todd English’s bluezoo, Orlando, Florida
Todd English’s bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel doesn’t Mickey Mouse around. The Shrimp Cocktail Steamroller is a “deconstructed shrimp cocktail served in a glass tube that is consumed by creating a vacuum with your hand and sucking the contents into your mouth.” Note: The dish isn’t on the current menu but it is offered at the hotel’s annual food and wine festival and will likely be offered on an upcoming menu, according to a spokesperson for the restaurant. Make a reservation at Todd English’s bluezoo.
Coasterra, San Diego, California
Order the Cóctel de Camarón and you’ll get a California twist on the classic Mexican shrimp cocktail — fresh Mexican white shrimp tossed with avocado, chopped romaine lettuce, and housemade Baja sangrita. The dish is served in a tumbler with a guajillo chile salt rim and accented with corn tortillas and cilantro garnish. Make a reservation at Coasterra.
Herons, Cary, North Carolina
Chef Steven Greene serves an elevated shrimp cocktail designed with chilled shrimp, mango salad, mint, and mango chili sauce. Greene sources shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, which are quickly poached in a court bouillon (broth of mirepoix, lemon, white wine, and bay leaf.) The mango salad is a mix of diced mango tossed with picked mint leaves, picked basil leaf, cilantro, lime juice, extra virgin olive oil, and scallion. And the mango chili sauce is a bewitching blend of mango puree and a Thai chili sauce. Make a reservation at Herons.
Angle-Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Palm Beach, Florida
Josh Thomsen, the executive chef of this five-star diamond resort restaurant, along with chef du cuisine Manlee Siu present a Poached Wild Florida Shrimp Cocktail on the menu, which stars lemon caviar, beet, and horseradish sauce. First, the shrimp is butterflied and gently poached in shrimp stock. Next, the shrimp are chilled, sliced, and topped with faux lemon caviar and garnished with a tomato-free beet ketchup-horseradish sauce. Make a reservation at Angle-Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa.
Three Degrees, Portland, Oregon
Three Degrees takes the classic shrimp cocktail to another degree. The dish goes local and uses sustainable Oregon Bay shrimp — pink, bite-sized beauties that are wild caught — and combines them with remoulade, cocktail sauce, and fines herbs on flatbread. Make a reservation at Three Degrees.
The Forge, Miami Beach, Florida
Celebratory-driven steakhouse Miami Beach, which dates to the 1920’s and over its illustrious history has served celebs like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, is celebrated for its “Forge” Colossal Shrimp Cocktail — unique because of the “tremendous size of the U2/4 size shrimp,” typically not accessible to the public. Make a reservation at The Forge.
SUGARCANE raw bar grill, Miami, Florida
Executive chef Timon Balloo oversees this restaurant with three distinct culinary hubs — a robata grill, hot kitchen, and raw bar. He has expertly redesigned the classic shrimp cocktail which he calls Shell on Shrimp Cocktail. His secret: he blanches the shrimp in a dashi-based court bouillon (kombu, bonito, mirepoix, and white wine). Make a reservation at Sugarcane.
Zest Restaurant and Zest Market, Coral Gables, Florida
Renowned for her signature island flavors, chef Cindy Huston adds a funky tropical twist to her Peppa Shrimp Cocktail. Made with cane vinegar, cho-cho, carrot and pickled onion, — guacamole and plantain chips. Make a reservation at Zest Restaurant and Zest Market.
Loyal Nine, East Cambridge, Massachusetts
Loyal Nine serves East Coast Revival cuisine inspired by the region’s food culture. Translation: dishes whose rustic concepts that are vibrant, flavorful reimaginations of their predecessors. And one of chef/owner Marc Sheehan’s most popular dishes here is his Poached Shrimp — three whole shrimp served on ice with a bowl of salted herbs and lime. Make a reservation at Loyal Nine.
Spencer’s for Steak and Chops, Orlando, Florida
Spencer’s swaps out standard issue cocktail sauce for a Bloody Mary sorbet in its Pine Island Shrimp starter. The dish is served with avocado crema, basil oil, and bright pickled beets. Make a reservation at Spencer’s for Steak and Chops.
Laurie Bain Wilson is a Boston-based journalist, author, and essayist who writes often about travel, food, and baseball. Find her on Twitter @laurieheather.
Photo credits: sugarcane (courtesy of sugarcane); Cody O’Loughlin (Loyal Nine); Michael Pissari (Zest); Romain Maurice (The Forge).