My favorite thing about fancy parties? They almost always include a shrimp cocktail appetizer — platters of giant, plump shrimp just waiting to be dunked into a piquant cocktail sauce.
But there's no reason you have to wait for fancy parties to enjoy this treat. All you need is an excuse. And to me, there's none better than an Oscar viewing party. Best yet, shrimp cocktail is easy to make, can be done in advance, and you don't even have to cook the shrimp yourself (but it is better if you do).
My preference is for large or jumbo shrimp, generally classified as 10 to 15 shrimp per pound. Large usually come in at 15 to 30 per pound.
The best shrimp are flash frozen within hours of being caught. This preserves the flavor and texture of the shrimp. Keep the shrimp frozen until just before you want to serve or cook them. When you are ready, thaw the shrimp under cold running water. This is essential to preserving the texture of the shrimp.
For shrimp cocktail, I cook the shrimp by a method that is closer to poaching. I want the shrimp to be fully cooked, but not over-cooked and this is my fail-safe method. I boil a big pot of salted water and add fresh lemons just before adding the thawed shrimp. As soon as the shrimp are added, the lid goes on the pot and the heat is turned off until the shrimp are cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes for most jumbo shrimp.
Once the shrimp are cooked, I dunk them in cold water to stop the cooking. You know when shrimp are perfectly cooked when the shells come off easily. The shells tend to stick to over-cooked shrimp.
Keep the peeled shrimp dry and cold in the refrigerator, then serve with homemade cocktail sauce. The bloody mary cocktail sauce here is one of my favorites. The addition of vodka adds a spike of flavor and the rim of celery salt is both pretty and reminiscent of that classic cocktail.
SHRIMP COCKTAIL WITH BLOODY MARY SAUCE
This sweet and smoky, tart and tangy bloody mary sauce is so good you will want to drink it — or adopt it as both your house cocktail sauce and the mixer for your favorite eye opener. Rim your serving dish with celery salt before serving for a special presentation and that hint of celery.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
2 lemons, quartered
2 pounds jumbo shell-on raw shrimp, thawed if frozen
For the sauce:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Heinz Chili Sauce
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Juice of 1/2 small lime
1 heaping tablespoon prepared white horseradish (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon pureed chipotle peppers in adobo (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) vodka
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch garlic salt
Celery salt, for serving
Fill a large (6- to 8-quart) stockpot halfway with water, then add 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the lemons, then return the water to a boil. Add the shrimp, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Leave the shrimp in the water for 2 to 4 minutes, or until cooked through, pink and curled. The larger the shrimp, the longer they will take to cook.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shrimp to a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover the shrimp, then stir to cool them. When the shrimp are cool, peel and devein them, then pat them dry and transfer to a platter or plate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To make the sauce, in a medium non-reactive bowl, mix together the ketchup, chili sauce, lemon juice and zest, lime juice, horseradish, pureed chipotle, vodka, Worcestershire and garlic salt. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you like a lot of horseradish and chipotle, you may want to add more. The sauce can be made and refrigerated in a glass jar up to one week in advance.
Sprinkle celery salt around the rim of a serving dish. Transfer the cocktail sauce to a serving bowl and place in the center of the serving dish. Arrange the chilled shrimp around the edges.
Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories; 25 calories from fat (11 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 230 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 31 g protein; 1150 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."