When I was recently in Indianapolis for some live cooking demos I discovered the best shrimp cocktail I’ve ever tasted across the street from my hotel at St. Elmo Steak House, a 113-yearold institution in the heart of the city. The jumbo shrimp were tender and succulent, and the cocktail sauce was mind-blowing. Man, it was some powerful stuff! I knew right then I had a new hacking assignment on my hands, so I ordered some sauce to go and starting asking questions. I was told the secret is freshly grated horseradish in the sauce, which makes for a tastier and more nasal cavity– clearing sauce than typical cocktail sauces made with bottled horseradish.

When shopping for horseradish I discovered that the most flavorful horseradish roots are firm to the touch and not at all spongy, so give them the squeeze test before you buy. Once you peel, grate, and mince the horseradish, mix it with vinegar and a little salt to keep it from turning brown and to give it the right flavor. The dish isn’t a complete success unless the shrimp are perfectly poached so that they are tender and not rubbery. I’ve got that technique for you here as well. Follow this recipe as described and you will have a great home kitchen copy of the famous restaurant appetizer that is sure to leave your diners breathing clearly and begging for more.

6 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
10 jumbo raw shrimp (21/25 per pound, with or without shells)

1 small, firm horseradish root
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Pinch of salt
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup water

2 lemon wedges

Cooking method

1-Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2- or 3-quart saucepan over high heat. Stir in the salt, turn off the heat, and set a timer to 3 minutes.

After 3 minutes the water should be in the 160 to 180 degrees F range, which is the perfect heat for poaching the shrimp. Drop in the shrimp and set the timer for 2 minutes.

3-After 2 minutes remove the shrimp from the water and immediately plunge them into ice water for 1 minute to halt the cooking process. Remove any shells from the shrimp, dry the shrimp, and place them in a covered container in your refrigerator to chill for about 2 hours.

4-For the sauce, peel the brown skin from a firm horseradish root using a vegetable peeler. Grate the horseradish on a grater with holes that are about ¼-inch diameter, then mince it. Combine ½ cup of the horseradish with the vinegar and salt and let it sit covered in your refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, stir well, then cover and chill the sauce until your shrimp are cold and you are ready to prepare the dish.

5-To make each serving, place 5 shrimp in a dish or martini glass. Spoon a generous portion of sauce over the top of each serving and serve the shrimp cocktail with a wedge of lemon on the side.

You can keep any leftover horseradish for several weeks by mixing it with vinegar as described in the recipe: Mix every ½ cup of grated horseradish with 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar and a pinch of salt and you will have horseradish that’s better than anything you’ll buy in a bottle.

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