Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Eric Akis: For a celebratory treat, go retro with seafood cocktail

A deluxe mix of chilled seafood decoratively served in a glass fits the bill for a holiday appetizer.
Deluxe seafood cocktail is served in a martini glass with tangy cocktail sauce and lemon. ERIC AKIS

My wife and I were having my son and his partner over for an early evening, celebratory, glass of bubbly wine and I wanted to serve them a deluxe appetizer to enjoy with it. I thought seafood would fit the bill and opted to make something retro in style served chilled and in a glass: Seafood cocktail.

The morning before serving it, I shopped for ingredients and came home with prawns, scallops, hand-peeled shrimp, hot-smoked salmon and oysters. All were purchased in modest amounts because this was an appetizer after all and all that seafood, and the cocktail sauce and garnishes, had to fit into a martini or other V-shaped glass.

I bought raw, large, shell-on prawns and large East scallops and cooked them in court bouillon, simmering water flavoured with lemon, onion, peppercorns, bay leaf and salt. When cooked, the flavour-enhanced scallops and prawns were cooled, and the latter were also peeled and deveined.

The hand-peeled shrimp I used are small shrimp that are cooked and hand peeled before selling, resulting in a product with a nice texture and bright pink colour. In other words, something that looks and tastes great in seafood cocktail.

At seafood stores and some supermarkets you’ll see different types of hot-smoked salmon for sale. The type I bought was cut into strips that fit nicely into my seafood cocktails. To make hot-smoked salmon, the fish is brined and then smoked at higher temperatures than the more silky in texture cold-smoked salmon. The end result is a product that’s firm and fully cooked, but still moist and very appealing.

The oysters I bought were small ones perfect for shucking and serving raw.

When buying scallops, hand-peeled shrimp, hot-smoked salmon and prawns, whether fresh or thawed from frozen, look for ones that are vibrant and solid with a mild aroma. If they have an overpowering aroma with hints of ammonia, or look dull and/or soft or falling apart, they’ve been sitting around too long and should be avoided.

When buying oysters, opt for those that have damage-free hard shells that tightly close. I usually buy a few more oysters than I need, just in case I mess up when shucking them.

Seafood will vary in cost depending on where you shop and the exact items you buy. But when tallying up the items I used in my seafood cocktails they cost about $9.50 per serving, not too bad for such a decadent treat.

In my recipe, I also give you the option to use smaller bay scallops, instead of more costly large scallops. Conversely, if you like pricier Dungeness crab, you could replace the hand-peeled shrimp with it. And, if you don’t care for oysters, you could replace them in with cooked, cooled mussels or clams, served in the half shell.

My seafood cocktail recipe serves four, but could be expanded if serving a larger group, or halved, if only serving two.

Deluxe Seafood Cocktail

A deluxe mix of chilled seafood decoratively served in a glass with tangy cocktail sauce.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 16 minutes

Makes: four servings

5 cups water

1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

6 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 tsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt

8 large, raw, unpeeled prawns or shrimp (see Note)

4 large East Coast scallops, or 16 small bay scallops

1 1/2 cups baby salad greens

100 grams cooked, hand-peeled shrimp or Dungeness crab meat

4 strips or nuggets hot-smoked salmon

4 small oysters, shucked and left on the half shell (see Eric's options)

• cocktail sauce (see recipe below)

4 lemon wedges

4 Italian (flat-leaf) parsley sprigs

Place water, sliced lemon, onion, peppercorns and bay leaf in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Now lower the heat until this court bouillon gently simmers. Simmer court bouillon five minutes. Meanwhile, fill a shallow bowl with ice water.

When court bouillon has simmered five minutes, add the prawns, return to a simmer, and cook two minutes, or until prawns are just cooked through (see Note). Use tongs to lift the prawns out of the pot and into the ice water to cool. While prawns cool, add the scallops to the court bouillon, return to a simmer and cook two minutes, if scallops are large, or one minute to 90 seconds, for small bay scallops, or until just cooked thorough. Lift scallops out of the pot and set on a plate to cool.

When prawns have cooled, peel and devein them, leaving the tip of the tails intact (see Note). Set prawns on the plate with the scallops, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. They can be prepared many hours in advance of serving.

To serve, divide and place salad greens into four, chilled, large martini or other V-shaped glasses. Hook two prawns on the rim of each glass. Artfully set a large scallop (or four bay scallops), some hand-peeled shrimp (or crab meat), a piece of hot-smoked salmon and a shucked oyster on the salad greens in each glass, leaving a space for the cocktail sauce. Spoon some cocktail sauce into that space. Garnish each seafood cocktail with a lemon wedge and parsley sprig. Serve with the rest of cocktail sauce, for spooning on at the table.

Note: Raw prawns and shrimp are sold according to size and count per pound. Large sized, 21 to 25 count per pound ones are great to use in seafood cocktail. Prawns or shrimp are cooked when they turn bright pink and feel just slightly firm to the touch. If the prawn or shrimp feels overly soft, it’s not cooked through. To peel them, hold the end of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab onto its swimmerets, the little legs under the shell. Pull off the shell, leaving the very bottom portion of the tail intact. If the prawns or shrimp were not sold deveined, use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of each prawn or shrimp. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein, if there is one, pat the prawns or shrimp dry, and they’re ready to use.

Eric options: If you don’t care for oysters, you could replace them with four mussels or four clams. To prepare them, pour 1/4-inch of water into a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the mussels or clams, cover and cook until they just open. Set mussels or clams on a plate, cool, remove the top shells, and then cover and refrigerate until ready to use in the seafood cocktails.

Cocktail Sauce

Here’s a classic, tangy sauce to serve with chilled seafood.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: scant cup

3/4 cup ketchup

1 1/2 Tbsp prepared horseradish

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 to 1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Cocktail sauce can be made many hours in advance.

[email protected]

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.