Is Store-Bought Shrimp Cocktail Raw Or Cooked?

Shrimp cocktail is one of those throwback dishes that hasn't fallen out of style. A black plastic ring full of ice-cold shrimp and a bowl of zingy cocktail sauce is a retro-classic mainstay for parties and potlucks for a reason. In addition to being deliciously fresh, acidic, sweet, and spicy, pre-made shrimp cocktail platters can be picked up from many grocery stores, which makes serving up a portion dead easy. With a cold shrimp dish, though — one that's sometimes even sold frozen — you may wonder: Have these little crustaceans been cooked? 

The shrimp cocktail sold at your local store is actually pre-cooked and ready-to-go. If you're squeamish about raw seafood and feeling skeptical, just look at the color. If shrimp is pink or rosy white, it's been cooked, while raw shrimp range from translucent gray to brown and have a slick texture. Once cooked, shrimp firm up and take on a pinkish-orange color from carotenoid pigments. These pigments are normally concealed by a certain protein strand that weakens when cooked, revealing the pink hue underneath.

For store-bought shrimp cocktail, all you have to do is defrost both the protein and the sauce (if they were frozen), pat the shrimp dry before serving, and get to dipping. The easiest and safest way to thaw frozen cooked shrimp is to let the whole tray sit in the refrigerator overnight, according to the USDA. Eat all of it within a day, since seafood is quite perishable.

How to prepare homemade shrimp cocktail

While picking up a ready-made platter is certainly convenient, making your own shrimp cocktail is pretty easy, and the flavor and texture pay-off is well worth it. If you don't want to mess with shelling and deveining, you can even buy pre-cleaned shrimp, whether fresh or frozen — just make sure they still have their tails on, so your guests can pick them up easily.

To figure out how much seafood to purchase, follow Ina Garten's foolproof advice for buying shrimp. She says to pay attention to the label that tells you how many shrimp make up a pound. A good choice are packages that contain 16 to 20 shrimp, as this indicates that they're large, but not colossal. How much shrimp you should serve at a dinner party also depends on what else you make — if you have plenty of other appetizers or a big main course, cook less shrimp.

To cook the raw shrimp, bring well-seasoned water to a simmer. You can use just salt and a bit of sugar, or add herbs, onions, lemon, or spices. Turn off the flame, add the shrimp, and let them gently poach in the hot water until just barely cooked. Immediately transfer to an ice bath, and they'll be ready to eat. As for the dip, whip up a classic shrimp cocktail sauce from scratch, or upgrade store-bought sauce with an extra hit of prepared horseradish, hot sauce, or lemon juice.