Shrimp Cocktail Salad ties in nicely at a holiday dinner, but it also make a great crisp, cool, quick supper.
We’ve been known to break the savvy party host golden rule by cooking stuff we’ve never tried before, even at a holiday meal. It hasn’t always been the best idea. Looking back, our most successful celebratory dinners lean toward the traditional. Sometimes the safest route is the best, especially when our tables are set for the widest variety of ages and tastes, and getting along is even more important than eating well. It’s what most of us really want anyway, especially after a tiring decade of fusion cuisine and chasing exotic ingredients. Who wants to think too hard during the family fun?
To get things rolling, launch the holiday dinner with a big ta-da first course before all the usual fixings are passed around. One of our favorite starters is a showy Shrimp Cocktail Salad, a combination of old school continental shrimp cocktail with crisp salad greens and a creamy nose-tingling cocktail dressing. Serve it family-style on a giant cold platter and let everyone dig in.
Shrimp Cocktail Salad works nicely for a family gathering or a business dinner because it is a familiar complementary opposite to all the traditional meats and poultry. It’s cold and crisp (unlike all those mushy holiday casseroles), it’s a foolproof way to include seafood in a meaty menu (Americans love shrimp to the tune of a billion pounds annually), it’s fancy (who doesn’t bee-line it to the office party shrimp table after hitting the chardonnay bar?), and it’s easy.
Thaw a bag of frozen precooked shrimp or get a ready-to-go party platter at the seafood counter. The classic salad ingredients—romaine, red cabbage, celery, and slivers of red onion are super simple so you can scale it up or down according to the size of your crowd.
Same with the creamy dressing, a delicious mix of mayo, chili sauce, and horseradish. Scatter about four good-size shrimp per person over the greens. You may feel like ratcheting up the red cabbage to radicchio or the celery to shaved fennel. You may want to go retro with a big silver bowl of fresh saltines or opt for a couple of tall cups holding bouquets of salty breadsticks. The only rule is serve the salad icy cold. Everyone will love it and no one will miss the crushed ice.
Shrimp Cocktail Salad
1 medium head romaine lettuce, cut into bite size pieces
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup very thin red onion slivers
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chili sauce
½ cup prepared horseradish, or to taste
Two lemons cut into 8 wedges
32 large chilled cooked and peeled shrimp
Arrange the lettuce blended with the red cabbage on a large rimmed platter or large shallow bowl. Combine the mayonnaise, chili sauce and horseradish in a small bowl. Dollop the dressing over the greens (use as much as you like and pass additional dressing at the table). Scatter the celery, onions and shrimp over the dressed greens. Garnish the platter with the lemon wedges. Chill.
Makes 8 servings.