Making shrimp cocktail can be as easy as putting shrimp into boiling water, draining and chilling. But if you want the shrimp to taste really great, it's worth the effort to poach them in a court bouillon, a briefly cooked white wine–vegetable broth. The cooked shrimp cool completely in the court bouillon, which adds flavor and keeps the shrimp moist.

Serves 4 as an appetizer


Note: If you can find them, here's a place to go all-out with very large shrimp sold as U15, meaning fewer than 15 shrimp to the pound. If not, 16–20 shrimp, meaning 16 to 20 to the pound, will taste just fine.

For the classic court bouillon:
  • 1/2 onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 carrot, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 stalk celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/4 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 allspice berry
  • 1/2 small, dried red chili, such as a Thai or cayenne chili
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 4 tsp. fine sea salt

    For the shrimp cocktail:
  • 1 pound very large (U15) or large (16–20) shrimp, shelled, tails on, deveined
  • Store-bought cocktail sauce, for serving


    For the court bouillon, combine the onion, carrot, celery, fennel, garlic, lemon, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, coriander, mustard and fennel seeds, clove, allspice and chili in an 8-quart pot. Add 3 quarts water, the wine and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.

    Prepare an ice bath by filling your sink with ice and cold water. Fill a quart container with more ice.

    Add the shrimp to the simmering court bouillon. Return to a simmer and cook until the shrimp are firm and cooked through, about 45 seconds for large shrimp, about 40 seconds for medium. Remove from the heat and add 1 quart ice to the pot to cool down the court bouillon. Put the pot into the ice bath and let the shrimp cool in the court bouillon for at least 1 hour.

    Remove the cooled shrimp from the liquid and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. Discard the court bouillon.

    From School of Fish. Copyright © 2014 by Ben Pollinger. Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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