I try to remain cliché-free when it comes to my blog posts and recipes – ideally, I’d like turn up each week with something unexpected, much like that batty aunt who appears in a kaftan and a new boyfriend every other visit. However, at certain times of year predictability is inevitable. The most predictable of all is Christmas and that is why I am here today with that retro Christmas starter. Even if it wasn’t in the title you’d know the one. The only dish that can unironically be served in a martini glass, the one and only prawn cocktail. I’m sure the hippy aunt would approve.
Typically, prawn cocktail, or more often Christmas prawn cocktail (because when else do we unabashedly choose to mix prawns in pink Marie Rose sauce and serve it on top of chopped iceberg lettuce? Honestly, not even picnics feel comfortable with prawn cocktail around these days – they’re all about the homemade focaccia and zaatar-speckled mezze platters anyway) is the fodder for a party. Friends and family gather, there are twinkly lights aglow, pomegranate seeds strewn over everything – it’s basically an episode of Nigella.
What if I told you, I ate this not at a party but just as a normal Thursday night’s pre-dinner appetizer? After all, who needs friends when you have prawn cocktail?
Gaylord and I had gone to the market that day and bought coral-coloured prawns, armoured up in their sturdy shells. During the beheading and peeling process, I had to snaffle a little one – the meat was sweet and succulent, all it needed was a squeeze of lemon.
Now eating a prawn in such a way is perfectly acceptable in the heat of summer, maybe with a little pot of lemony aioli on the side, but this is Christmas and if you need anything to get into the festive mood, forget traipsing around the Christmas markets, forget watching The Holiday, prawn cocktail is the answer.
Nowadays, because the food scene likes to reminisce about the tastes of yore – from peach melba to duck a l’orange – and, without even a flicker of self-consciousness, make them ‘better’, the recipes we’ll find online for prawn cocktail will be ‘the 21st century’ version, ‘new and improved’ and ‘stir in crème fraiche and a trickle of extra virgin olive oil’. If we’ve already got out the martini glasses (or in my case, ice cream sundae glasses) we might as well go the whole hog and make a real prawn cocktail: and what more do you need other than mayonnaise and ketchup?
Children need no further encouragement to delight in prawn cocktail – don’t all children want to make a mess and mix together two condiments that really should never be mixed?! That was certainly me at school, ripping open those little sachets of mayo and ketchup which probably don’t exist anymore then stirring them together on my plate. This baby pink, unexpectedly delicious goo was just the sort of outrageousness I would get up to in my youth. Consider this the peak of my rebellion.
So, when it comes to cliché-cooking, you basically have to roll with it – don’t be ashamed that all you want right now is a prawn cocktail topped with a sprig of mint. My only tweak is to insist we make our own lemony mayonnaise before defiling it with all that ketchup – it is the perfect creamy base, light with lemon as opposed to vinegar, to perfectly complement those sweet prawns. Pile up your martini glass with chopped lettuce, sweet, sharp and salty prawn cocktail, and enjoy the comfort of predictability. Albeit with some pomegranate seeds on top.
- 450 g high-quality cooked prawns shells removed
- 2-3 tbsp mayonnaise (see quantities below)
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- 1 little gem lettuce
- Pomegranate seeds, lime zest and mint leaves to garnish
For the mayonnaise
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 150 ml rapeseed oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- First make the mayo – put the egg yolk in a small mixing bowl and add the Dijon and some salt. Using one of the ends of your electric beaters (or a fork if you're feeling determined) start whisking as you slowly pour in oil in a thin trickle. You may need to stabilise the bowl on a tea towel first otherwise it will spin around like crazy. If the mayo becomes really thick and greasy add a little water to loosen it. Make sure you pour all the oil in very slowly otherwise it will split. Once all the oil is added, season with salt and pepper and add the lemon juice.
- Scoop out 2 tablespoons of mayo and plop it in a bowl along with the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, salt and pepper. Mix it all together and give it a taste – add the other tablespoon of mayo if you would like it creamier.
- Cut two-thirds of the prawns into bite-sized pieces. Reserve two pretty prawns (you can be the judge of what a pretty prawn is), and add all the rest to the sauce and mix. Squeeze in a little lemon juice for some zingy freshness and mix again.
- Wash and shred the lettuce. Divide it between two serving dishes – you probably won't need it all.
- Top the lettuce with the prawn cocktail. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, lime zest, mint and some more cayenne pepper. Perch that pretty prawn on the edge of the dish.