When it comes to seafood, there’s one timeless companion that stands out above the rest: classic cocktail sauce. This vibrant and tangy condiment has been gracing seafood platters and appetizer spreads for generations, and its popularity endures for good reason. This cocktail sauce recipe is a must have for seafood lovers.
A traditional cocktail sauce is a simple yet brilliant concoction, combining a few key ingredients to create a lovely burst of flavor. Its base consists of ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and hot sauce, which come together to create a symphony of sweet, savory, and spicy notes. The balance of these flavors is what makes cocktail sauce so addicting.
Cocktail sauce is also extremely versatile. It pairs flawlessly with a wide range of seafood, from shrimp and calamari to oysters and crab. Whether you’re enjoying a fancy seafood platter at a fine-dining restaurant or simply indulging in some homemade shrimp cocktail, cocktail sauce elevates the experience to new heights.
What Is Cocktail Sauce
Cocktail sauce, also called seafood sauce, is a preparation of fresh and bottled ingredients combined to make a pairing for seafood like shrimp and oysters. There is no confirmed inventor of cocktail sauce, but many people credit its popularity to British chef and critique Fanny Cradock. And while some people think this sauce goes back centuries, it was most likely created some time in the mid 20th century!
The most basic cocktail sauce is just ketchup with grated horseradish, but these days everyone has their own family secret recipe. My recipe is a combination of the most popular additions but feel free to get creative and make it your own.
How To Make A Classic Cocktail Sauce
Other than the garlic and the lemon, all the other ingredients are shelf or refrigerator stable. They are jarred or bottled so you can keep making homemade cocktail sauce again and again.
- 250 ml Tomato Ketchup – Of course when it is ketchup you have to go Heinz classic. However some people like using sweet or regular chili sauce as the base of a seafood sauce so you can go that route too!
- 2-3 tbsp grated Horseradish – This ingredient is usually found in jars or bags depending on where you are in the world. Sometimes you will see something called prepared horseradish, which is ground horseradish mixed with things like vinegar, oil, mustard etc… While it is tasty and has a purpose, I use 100% pure horseradish in this recipe. If you cannot find it in your local grocery, you can order this no nonsense jar online.
- 3 cloves Garlic – Finely minced. You can use a garlic press if you like, just do it over the bowl so all the garlic oils go into the sauce
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice – Freshly squeezed.
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce – Ok, so I know I am Heinz Worcester sauce instead of the proper Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. That’s only because I couldn’t find a bottle of the latter for this photo. Please use Lea and Perrins.
- 1/2 tsp Fish Sauce – I like to use fish sauce in my cocktail sauce since it adds a burst of umami and salt. This is also why I don’t add extra salt, but you are free to do so if you like. In most of my recipes I tend to recommend my favorite Phu Quoc fish sauce, but since cocktail sauce has so many combined flavors you can get away with using a cheaper general brand.
- Hot Sauce – To taste. The most traditional hot sauces in a classic seafood sauce are the Louisiana style ones like Tabasco or Crystal. However you can use a different one if you like. I often make my own hot sauce from dried peppers so I tend to get pretty creative.
To make this classic cocktail sauce there is only one step to follow. And that step is to simply add all the ingredients to a bowl and mix it up. Pretty easy right? This sauce can be made start to finish in less than five minutes (faster if you use ‘jarlic‘ and squeeze bottle lemon juice).
What To Serve With Cocktail Sauce
Cocktail sauce is a versatile condiment that pairs well with a variety of dishes, but it is most commonly associated with seafood. Here are some popular foods and dishes to serve with cocktail sauce:
- Shellfish: This is the classic pairing. Cocktail sauce is a fantastic accompaniment for various seafood options, including:
- Shrimp cocktail
- Crab cakes or Crab Rangoons
- Fried or grilled shrimp
- Oysters on the half shell
- Clams and mussels
- Calamari or fried squid
- Fish: While traditionally used with shellfish, cocktail sauce can also enhance the flavor of different fish dishes, such as:
- Fish and chips
- Baked or broiled fish fillets
- Grilled or blackened fish
- Fish tacos
- Appetizers and Snacks: Cocktail sauce can elevate the taste of various appetizers and snacks, including:
- Onion rings
- Chicken tenders or nuggets
- Mozzarella sticks
- Vegetable platters
- Hush puppies
- Burgers and Sandwiches: Use cocktail sauce as a zesty topping for burgers and sandwiches, particularly those with seafood elements like fish sandwiches or shrimp po’ boys.
- French Fries: Dip your french fries into cocktail sauce for a tangy and spicy twist on this classic side dish.
- Meat: Though less common, some people enjoy cocktail sauce with meats like roast beef or grilled chicken as a tangy and spicy alternative to traditional condiments.
- Salads: Use cocktail sauce as a unique dressing for salads, especially those with a seafood component like a shrimp or crab salad.
- Sushi: Some sushi enthusiasts enjoy dipping their rolls or sashimi into cocktail sauce for a different flavor experience.
- Bloody Mary: Cocktail sauce can be a fantastic addition to a Bloody Mary cocktail, giving it an extra kick of flavor.
- Buffet Spreads: When hosting a party or gathering, include cocktail sauce as part of a condiment selection for guests to enjoy with various appetizers and seafood options.
Remember, cocktail sauce is highly customizable. You can adjust the heat level by adding more or less horseradish or hot sauce to suit your taste preferences. Whether you’re serving it as a classic dip for shrimp or exploring creative culinary pairings, cocktail sauce can add a delightful burst of flavor to a wide range of dishes.
Quick And Easy Hors d’Oeuvres?
One of my favorite passed hors d’oeuvres when hosting parties are shrimp cocktail shooters. Just add a little of your homemade cocktail sauce to a shot glass and dunk in a steamed or boiled shrimp. This is always very popular with my guests.
I do recommend having a large tray of cooked shrimp on ice as well so people can get more, since they will have quite a bit of sauce left over after only eating one shrimp. Plus this way no one is dipping their fingers into a shared bowl of sauce on the table.
Ways To Customize Your Homemade Classic Seafood Sauce
If you want to get creative, here are a few options to really change up the classic recipe for one you’ll likely call your family’s secret recipe!
- Add Mayonnaise – If you want to create a more mellow and creamy sauce, you can mix in a bit of mayo. I would recommend making homemade mayonnaise since it’s quick, easy, and way better than store-bought.
- Use Vinegar – For an added tang you can add a little vinegar to your sauce. I would recommend either white wine or champagne vinegar as others may be too strong. Although apple cider vinegar could add a nice sweetness, the ketchup base tends to lean sweet to begin with.
- Try Alternative Hot Sauce – Instead of the classic Tabasco try experimenting with some other types of heat. I really like using sambal oelek which is a popular South East Asian condiment. You can also try things like Gochujang (Korean chili paste), Eros Pisto (Hungarian paprika paste), and shito, a Ghanian hot pepper paste that I’ve recently gotten quite addicted to!
How To Store Homemade Cocktail / Seafood Sauce
Since it is unlikely you will eat all of the sauce at one go, or the fact you are preparing it in advance of a party, you’ll need to store your homemade sauce. As with all of my condiment recipes, from my fresh and seasonal blackcurrant compote to my decadent caramel sauce, I use the same method. The Kilner jar.
Of course you don’t need to use that exact brand name, but the lid mechanism with the rubber gasket is my favorite way to store all my sauces, dips, spreads, and pretty much anything else that will fit.
Classic Cocktail Sauce
- 1 Bowl | to mix
- 250 ml Tomato Ketchup Of course when it is ketchup you have to go Heinz classic. However some people like using sweet or regular chili sauce as the base of a seafood sauce so you can go that route too!
- 2-3 tbsp Grated Horseradish This ingredient is usually found in jars or bags depending on where you are in the world. Sometimes you will see something called prepared horseradish which is ground horseradish mixed with things like vinegar, oil, mustard etc… While it is tasty and has a purpose, I use 100% pure horseradish in this recipe.
- 3 cloves Garlic Finely minced. You can use a garlic press if you like just do it over the bowl so all the garlic oils go into the sauce
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice Freshly squeezed.
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 tsp Fish Sauce I like to use fish sauce in my cocktail sauce since it adds a burst of umami and salt. This is also why I don't add extra salt but you are free to do so if you like.
- Hot Sauce To taste. The most traditional hot sauces in a classic seafood sauce are the Louisiana style ones like Tabasco or Crystal. However you can use a different one if you like.
- Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix well.250 ml Tomato Ketchup, 2-3 tbsp Grated Horseradish, 3 cloves Garlic, 1 tbsp Lemon Juice, 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce, 1/2 tsp Fish Sauce, Hot Sauce