Italian shrimp cocktail

Italian shrimp cocktail is a cold starter made of shrimp in a creamy vodka sauce. A popular Italian shrimp appetizer, this shrimp cocktail variation uses Marie Rose sauce instead of a tomato-based cocktail sauce. Ready in 10 minutes, this is an elegant appetizer for those festive occasions when you need to devote most of your time to the main course.

Italian shrimp cocktail: peeled shrimp in Marie Rose sauce with a splash of vodka. An elegant appetizer for a special occasion.

Shrimp cocktail is a very popular appetizer in Italy, where it is known as cocktail di gamberetti. If you are familiar with cocktail sauce being red (tomato based) and shrimp being served on the side, with their tail shells on, think again. This is a variation of the appetizer, Italian style. Shimps are always peeled and mixed with the cocktail sauce. Which is mayo-based. Back in the ’80s and ’90s the most popular way to serve shrimp cocktail in Italy was on a scallop shell. This serving style has gone out of fashion, but the appetizer itself is still going strong.

Shrimp in cocktail sauce is a dish that I have loved ever since I was a kid. What’s not to love about shrimps drowned in creamy cocktail sauce? Especially when you are a mayo lover. Shrimp cocktail is restaurant material. At home, it is only reserved to special occasions like Christmas or Easter. Back home, if it was not smoked salmon carpaccio, it was shrimp cocktail. Italian style, obvs.

Two portions of shrimp in cocktail sauce.

Salsa cocktail

What is known in Italian as salsa cocktail does not directly translate into English as cocktail sauce. In fact, Italian cocktail sauce is often called salsa rosa (pink sauce) and is more related to “Marie Rose sauce”. The most popular cocktail sauce for shrimp cocktail in North America is tomato based. A very popular variation is the Mexican one. Italian shrimp cocktail uses a mayonnaise based cocktail sauce, instead.

Marie Rose sauce is a mild sauce made with mayo and ketchup plus some other ingredients. In my cocktail sauce an unmissable ingredient is vodka. Just like in penne salmone e vodka, a dash of the potent spirit is used to even out the flavours and obtain a perfectly balanced result. Since the vodka is used in minimal quantities, the Italian cocktail sauce is rather mild in flavour. If you want a kick to your shrimp cocktail, I recommend brushing the rims of the serving cups with egg white and running the edges in chili flakes. For that extra kick, and the cocktail look.

Italian shrimp cocktail served in a small glass over a blue plate.

How to make Italian shrimp cocktail

Making this lovely Italian shrimp appetizer is rather easy, and for best results I recommend making the cocktail sauce from scratch. Down to the mayo, because homemade mayonnaise is the best. Since I like to save time I have bought ready to eat cooked shrimp. So I could use the time I saved in making the shrimps to make homemade mayo.

If you don’t have a blender or making mayo really sounds daunting, go ahead and use store-bought. You will need about 1 cup (approximately 250 ml). In that case you can skip the first 4 ingredients in the list that follows.

What you will need

  • 1 egg (room temperature)
  • 200 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp vodka
  • 500 g cooked shrimp

Ingredients to shrimp in cocktail sauce.

How to make Italian cocktail sauce with vodka

To make homemade mayo crack the egg in a tall container and start blending it using a hand blender in an up and down motion, as if churning butter. The egg will start to froth; after about a minute start pouring in the oil in a slow continuous stream. Keep the up and down movement with the blender and keep going. The mixture should emulsify before all of the oil is added, but go ahead and add it all. Stir in the salt and lemon juice. Now your delicious homemade mayo is ready.

If using store-bought mayo you can start from here. Transfer the mayonnaise to a mixing bowl. Add the Dijon and stir in – now you have transformed mayo into a dijonnaise! Then stir in the ketchup, and the sauce will get its distinctive colour. This is why in Italian this sauce is mostly knows as salsa rosa, pink sauce. Next, pour in the Worchestershire sauce and the vodka and give the sauce one final stir.

Italian shrimp in cocktail sauce with celery stalk as decoration.

The shrimps

I may be making homemade mayo, but don’t ask me to cook the shrimps myself. No way, for my shrimp cocktail I will always shortcut my way to ready-to-eat shrimps. My method of choice is buying shrimps in brine. Hand-peeled – by someone else. The expensive little buckets in supermarkets, you know? They are totally worth the cost. All you need to do is drain your shrimps and mix them with your cocktail sauce. This is what makes this a 10-minute recipe!

Forget about defrosting, brining, cooking and getting rubbery shrimps… And most of all, forget shelling! No stinky fingers when you sit at the table with your guests to enjoy your shrimp cocktail! That’s right, because Italian shrimps in cocktail sauce are always shelled and mixed in the sauce. You will never find shrimps on the side.

If you have some time on your hands and would rather use that than spend the crazy money shrimps in brine cost, buy frozen and cook them yourself. Here is a practical shrimp cooking guide that I find very helpful. Please keep in mind that this recipe will then take 10 minutes from the moment your shrimps are ready and cooled to room temperature.

Chili flakes decorate the rim of a glass with shrimp in vodka sauce.

More shrimp please

Are you a sucker for seafood and shrimp in particular like me? You’re gonna love these other recipes where the shrimp is king!

  • Swedish shrimp salad skagenröra is a pretty similar concept where peeled shrimps are mixed with a mayo-based sauce. Often used to top toast or baked potato.
  • Shrimp waffles! A savoury topping of shrimps and roe on top of sour cream waffles. Another irresistible Swedish thing.
  • Shrimp asparagus flatbread. The combination of shrimps and asparagus, together with a zesty mascarpone cream, makes this flatbread irresistible.
  • Coconut lime shrimp tacos. Love tacos? Shimps are a great alternative to minced meat. Here’s the recipe where I use the tiny frozen shrimps that shrink as they cook as they provide the best texture!

What’s your favourite shrimp recipe? Let me know in the comments!

Italian shrimp cocktail served in a small glass over a blue plate.
5 from 8 votes
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Italian shrimp cocktail

The Italian version of shrimp cocktail, a popular appetizer. Peeled shrimps mixed with a creamy mayo-based vodka sauce. Serve with chili flakes and a celery stalk.

Course Starter
Cuisine Italian
Keyword cocktail sauce, italian shrimp appetizer, marie rose sauce, shrimp cocktail, vodka sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 603 kcal
Author Eva | Electric Blue Food

Ingredients

  • 500 g shrimps in brine, drained
  • 200 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 egg room temperature
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp vodka
  • 1 tsp chili flakes optional
  • 1 celery stalk optional

Instructions

  1. Pour the shrimps through a colander to let any excess liquid drain away. Set aside.

  2. Homemade mayonnaise instructions; skip if using store-bought. Crack the egg in a tall container and blend it using a hand blender in an up and down motion. After about a minute pour in the oil in a slow continuous stream keeping the up and down movement. The mixture should emulsify before all of the oil is added, but go ahead and add it all. Stir in the salt and lemon juice.

  3. Transfer the mayonnaise to a mixing bowl. Stir in the Dijon. Next stir in the ketchup. Lastly, pour in the Worchestershire sauce and the vodka and give the sauce one final stir.

  4. Add the drained shrimps to the sauce and stir to evenly mix. Divide mixture to 4 serving cups. Keep chilled until serving.

  5. To decorate the serving glasses retain 1 tbsp egg white before making the mayo. Rub egg white on the rim of the glasses. Run wet rims through chili flakes. Fill serving glasses with shrimp cocktail and add a portion of the celery stalk as decoration.

Nutrition Facts
Italian shrimp cocktail
Amount Per Serving
Calories 603 Calories from Fat 477
% Daily Value*
Fat 53g82%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Cholesterol 356mg119%
Sodium 1272mg55%
Potassium 149mg4%
Carbohydrates 3g1%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 2g2%
Protein 27g54%
Vitamin A 246IU5%
Vitamin C 7mg8%
Calcium 187mg19%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

This recipe was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated in November 2020 with improved writing, new pictures and a recipe card.

 

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25 Comments

  1. darwinontherocks September 6, 2016 at 12:26

    Such a simple dish but so tasty ! I sometimes use brown shrimps as well and use a tomato instead of glass. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Eva September 6, 2016 at 21:35

      I like the idea of stuffed tomatoes 😀

      Reply
  2. giulia September 18, 2016 at 15:56

    Buonissimo!! Interessante l’uso del Worchestershire sauce. Da provare. 😉

    Reply
    1. Eva September 18, 2016 at 16:00

      Aiuta parecchio a bilanciare i sapori e a rendere la salsa più interessante 😉

      Reply
  3. Gloria November 30, 2020 at 18:37

    5 stars
    Well isn’t this party perfect. I know my guest would love this for sure. Simple yet elegant. A true crowd pleaser.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 21:57

      Thank you Gloria!

      Reply
  4. Valerie Skinner December 1, 2020 at 13:20

    5 stars
    This is such a wonderful idea! I never thought to serve shrimp cocktail in a glass, but it’s the perfect way to serve it at a party. Definitely going to give this a try.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 21:59

      Hi Valerie! Glad to see you liked the idea of serving them in a glass.

      Reply
  5. Chef Dennis December 2, 2020 at 09:26

    5 stars
    Oooh I love everything Italian! And this Italian shrimp cocktail is perfect! My friends will surely love this.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:00

      Hi Chef! As an Italian I’m just very proud to hear you love Italian food!

      Reply
  6. Jane Saunders December 4, 2020 at 11:13

    5 stars
    Vodka? Now we’re talking. You’ve just solved my what to serve for an appetiser on Christmas day. I always shy away from shrimp cocktail as it’s so overdone, but your is so different that it’s made the grade.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:00

      Hi Jane! Lovely! It’s good to try a slight variation to a classic from time to time, especially on big occasions.

      Reply
  7. Cindy December 5, 2020 at 10:32

    5 stars
    This was my first time trying Italian shrimp cocktail and it definitely lived up to my expectations! Thanks for sharing such an easy recipe. It makes a great go-to fancy snack 🙂

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:01

      Hi Cindy! Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  8. Tara December 6, 2020 at 07:11

    5 stars
    Shrimp Cocktail is a staple at our Christmas Eve celebration. Definitely adding the Italian twist to it this year! Can’t wait to give it a try, looks so delicious!

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:01

      Hi Tara! Hope my Italian shrimp cocktail will not disappoint.

      Reply
  9. Neha December 7, 2020 at 05:58

    Shrimp cocktail is such a fun recipe to prepare! I and my girl friends adore it. Thanks for an easy recipe, will give it a shot soon. Saving it for now.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:02

      Hi Neha! Hope your friends will love it.

      Reply
  10. Jo December 7, 2020 at 07:10

    5 stars
    I love shrimp cocktail. It’s so easy to make and so delicious. A perfect starter for a huge crowd.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:02

      Thank you very much, Jo!

      Reply
  11. Sam December 7, 2020 at 08:25

    Wow this looks delicious. I love how easy it is to make too. It would be perfect for a small holiday party. Can’t wait to try it.

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:03

      Thanks Sam! This definitely is a lovely little appteizer.

      Reply
  12. Natalie December 7, 2020 at 11:55

    5 stars
    This sounds so festive and delicious. Perfect for New Years’ Eve… or Christmas! I must save the recipe and give this a try. Thanks for the idea!

    Reply
    1. Eva December 7, 2020 at 22:04

      Hi Natalie! New Year’s Eve dinner is a great time for this little appetizer!

      Reply

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