July 15, 2022

How Did Cocktail Shrimp Become a Popular Appetizer?

Who doesn’t love a good cocktail shrimp appetizer? Shrimp cocktail is almost always one of the appetizers that run out first. People just can’t get enough of it, whether they’re dining at a restaurant or grazing at a catering event. But how have cocktail shrimp become so popular? What compels nearly everyone to have shrimp cocktail among their catering options? Find out.

History of the Cocktail Shrimp Appetizer

Cocktail shrimp became the main appetizer at every party towards the beginning of the 1960s in the United States. There is a common misconception that shrimp cocktails originate from Britain with how popular they became there, but that’s not so. Despite being arguably even more popular in Britain than in the United States, the origins begin in San Francisco.

Shrimp cocktail is not the first shellfish cocktail to become massively popular – oyster cocktails are. Supposedly, a gold miner in the early 1900s, fresh off from work, went to a restaurant and asked for whiskey and oysters. After drinking everything and adding vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, ketchup, and horseradish to the glass, he started dipping the oysters in it. Within a week, the restaurant was serving oyster cocktails.

But it wasn’t until 1959 in Las Vegas that an establishment thought to replace the oysters with shrimp. It was a shellfish that was farmed in greater amounts than oysters and was widely available in many places. Shrimp also cooks faster than most shellfish, making it perfect to serve as an appetizer. With an appetizer, you want something that can be made quickly before a meal or made quickly so you can serve it to guests. Shrimp is perfect for that, better than most other shellfish.

How Did Shrimp Cocktail Get Its Name?

Cocktails were originally only alcoholic drinks. They are still made with spirits, mixed with other sweet ingredients like fruit juice or cream. Slowly over time, cocktails were also the name for appetizers with small pieces of food, often served cold.

Most shellfish can be served cold, oysters and shrimp included, with nothing but a sauce or some crackers, fitting the name of cocktails well. That’s why when shrimp is served cold with small food bits alongside them at most, they’re called shrimp cocktails.

It would make sense to think that the name cocktail shrimp comes from the cocktail sauce, but it’s the opposite. Cocktail sauce as we know it now was made after cocktails with shrimp and other seafood became popular. In fact, the sauce was made to go with them.

What Shrimp Go In Cocktails?

There are several types of shrimp that can go in recipes, but not every type of shrimp is popular for cocktails. The three most popular types of shrimp that you’ll see are pink shrimp and brown shrimp, but they’re not the most popular for cocktails. You’re more likely to see rock shrimp in cocktails.

Pink shrimp are the small ones that are pink after being prepared. They’re usually used in salads, not cocktails. Brown shrimp usually go in recipes where the shrimp is cooked, not served cold like in cocktails.

Rock shrimp come in jumbo sizes that make them perfect finger food. Where the other two types are too small to be a meal on their own, you can snack on the rock shrimp.

Contact Grico’s Classic Cuisine and Catering for Cocktail Shrimp Appetizers

We serve shrimp cocktail on our dinner menu as an appetizer, and on several of our catering menus. You can make a reservation to come and try our own recipe that comes iced and served with a special tangy sauce.

If shrimp cocktail needs to be one of many appetizers for an event, please contact our Catering Coordinator to discuss details. Email them at afriedman@gricosrestaurant.com or by phone at 570-690-3339.