Produced by Natalie Whittle. Filmed by Liam McCarthy. Edited by Oliver McGuirk
Prawn cocktail-- ideally served in a goblet with a wedge of lemon and an unpeeled prawn on the side as a garnish. Now that is the ultimate dish of sophistication in the 1970s.
By the 1980s, the prawn cocktail was heralded as the nation's favourite starter. But once mass-produced, low-quality versions started to appear, it fell out of favour. It wasn't until the 1990s when an interest in British retro foods started that the prawn cocktail was revived, albeit with a sort of self-conscious ironic knot. Which I think is a shame, because the prawn cocktail, fashionable or not, if it's well-made, is delicious.
With prawn cocktail, it's all about good quality ingredients. You need to have cold water Atlantic prawns-- pink, plump, soft, juicy. Not warm water prawns, which are from tropical climates, which tend to be firm and slightly less flavoursome.
Ideally, you'll be able to get them shell on, because they will have even more flavour. If you can only get peeled ones, that's fine. Just make sure you get the biggest ones possible.
Prawns peeled. It's time to make the sauce. Now you want this to be piquant and a little bit sweet, but with enough acidity from the lemon to cut through the richness of the prawns. Mayonnaise in a bowl. A few drops of Tabasco. Tomato ketchup. A little bit of horseradish. A dash of cognac and some lemon. Salt, pepper.
So mix all the ingredients together really well. You definitely want to taste to make sure the balance is right. Mm. That is really good.
Time to make the salad. Now in the past, it would have been an iceberg lettuce. Varieties like Little Gem, which we can get now, provide the same sort of crunch and texture, but with more colour and actually more flavour. The white part of a spring onion, finely chopped, and some peeled and thinly sliced cucumber. And then toss that together.
So finally, it's time to assemble your prawn cocktails. Lettuce. Ideally, a goblet-- which my grandmother very kindly donated to me. Then pile a generous amount of prawns on top. You don't want to be mean here. Drizzle your sauce.
A tiny pinch of paprika. A wedge of lemon on the side. A couple of unpeeled prawns. Whoa. And there you go, prawn cocktail. And serve that, without any irony, to your guests.