prawn cocktail

The History of the Prawn Cocktail

The prawn cocktail has been an iconic British dish, whether it’s as the 70s retro classic for a dinner party or a crisp flavour. However, the history of prawn cocktail may not be quite as you think.

The prawn cocktail has been revolutionised over the years with new tastes and aspect introduced. The 1970s beloved style would see prawns drenched in Marie Rose sauce, dolloped upon shredded iceberg lettuce and served in a wine glass (a glass of blue nun optional). Over the years, with a sophisticated evolution of the starter, prawn cocktail has retained its popularity. It has become almost integral to the cultural history of modern Britain yet the origin is surprisingly American.

Although its conception has been credited to both Berni Inns and Fanny Craddock, in reality, it was a miner in 19th century California. According to legend, this miner would order oysters with vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, ketchup, and horseradish. His unique combination was named an oyster cocktail. Its popularity grew and soon, over American coastal cities, the seafood cocktail was taking over.

Naturally, the recipe developed over time and varied depending on the region. The ‘cocktail sauce’ could be found over crab, prawns, oyster, and all other types of seafood. It was a quick and tasty solution for hungry diners. Even the serving style of a wine glass came from America. During the prohibition, wine glasses became obsolete as they couldn’t contain alcohol. Budding entrepreneurs looked to filling them with prawn cocktail instead.

Eventually, the prawn cocktail came across the Atlantic and the Marie Rose sauce became adopted. This sauce, which at the very least, can be comprised of two ingredients (ketchup and mayonnaise) was far sweeter than its American counterpart. For traditionalists, the Marie Rose sauce should also include lemon juice, brandy, and Worcestershire sauce. Then, this dish became popular amongst dinner parties with Fanny Craddock proving its sophisticated ease.

Although recently the classic prawn cocktail is considered more kitsch than anything, it’s a flavour that most associate with the sweet taste of nostalgia. Whether it’s in a glass or part of a sandwich, the prawn cocktail will remain iconic. 

Make the ultimate prawn cocktail with our recipe here for your next dinner party


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