Some dishes stand the test of time, others fail miserably. Still others just need a little time on the bench before coming back refreshed and stronger than ever.
While there is something of a trend towards embracing retro food in a semi-ironic manner, taste-buds will brook no irony. Over the past few years, the prawn cocktail has arisen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of 1970s over-exposure and poor quality renderings. There’s no keeping a good dish down, as proved by this combination of plump prawns, tangy sauce and crisp lettuce.
Although the ’70s suburban reception venue associations are hard to shake, the history of the prawn cocktail actually stretches way back to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when shellfish – often oysters and less frequently “shrimp” – in a spicy sauce was a popular appetiser, often served in small cups. The custom of serving the dish in stemmed glasses can be pinned to the Prohibition era. Several decades later, in 1959, a dish consisting of shrimp with a dollop of cocktail sauce, served in a sundae glass, was popularised by Las Vegas’s Hotel Nevada (now the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino), which coined the term “original shrimp cocktail”. It was served for fifty cents, and this price has increased only twice in the intervening years.
Of course, the key to the success of such a simple dish is the quality of the ingredients. By all means buy cooked prawns, but make sure they’re super-fresh. Use a good shop-bought mayonnaise as the base for your cocktail sauce (also known as Marie Rose sauce), or make your own as we have here. Add the remaining ingredients and adjust the seasoning and spiciness to your own taste. Serve it with crisp lettuce, perfectly ripe avocado and a wedge of lemon or two, and you’ll understand why the prawn cocktail is again enjoying its time in the sun.