The Father of all Prawn Cocktails

Yes yes dear reader, I know the expression is “the mother of all…” but this recipe came from my lovely Dad, so I’ve always thought of it as “the father of all…”!

I don’t know how widespread prawn cocktail eating is.  I know it was big in Britain in the 1970s and for many Brits it will still evoke memories of 70s dinner parties, when it was the ubiquitous starter.  It is sad that many people have relegated it to those bygone days, as it is still a wonderful starter or delightfully light but filling salad.

The basis of the prawn cocktail is the Marie Rose sauce.  For those of you Stateside, this has been likened to fry sauce or Thousand Island dressing.

In my opinion my dad’s recipe is the best version of a Marie Rose sauce.  In fact I have been unable to eat a prawn cocktail in a restaurant for many many years because it just never was a patch on my dear dad’s!  His recipe originally came from a book my mother and he obtained as newly weds in the 60s.  The book was by the wonderful Marguerite Patten, the mother of all British food programmes – see this is a “mother of all…” recipe too!  You will either love Mrs Patten, or never have heard of her – it’s always a “who?” or “wow Marguerite Patten – love her” type-of-thing.  She was the first British TV chef but will always insist she is a home economist, not a chef.  She has heavily influenced modern TV chefs from Nigel Slater to Jamie Oliver, and she has nearly 200 cookery books to her name.  She deserves a better writeup than this, so I will dedicate a future post just to her – this doyenne of British cooking, now nearing her hundredth year.

Marguerite Patten [photo sourced from]

So, although I love this prawn cocktail recipe so much, it is rare for me to actually make it as I hardly ever buy cream.  However if I do happen to have cream, then I always set aside a couple of tablespoons for this precise purpose.  So, you may remember that macaroons were made a couple of weeks ago, not that they require cream!  But the chocolate ganache we made to fill them with required cream, so YAY prawn cocktail was on the menu a few nights later for dinner – yum!


So, the infamous recipe is…

  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons whipped fresh cream
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 6-7 drops Tabasco

You can play around with the amounts a bit to adjust it to your specific taste, adding extra lemon juice or Tabasco as you desire.  Then season to taste with salt & pepper and pop in the fridge for at least a couple of hours to let the flavours mingle and develop.   These amounts are supposed to be for serving eight people but, to be honest, my husband and I will easily devour this between just the two of us!


I then like to stir in some small prawns, like shrimp or salad prawns, or chopped king prawns

salad prawns
salad prawns

and have larger prawns, like king prawns to serve on top

king prawns
king prawns

It is best served on top of a bed of shredded crispy lettuce, something like Iceberg or Little Gem, and with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper on top. Of course to be completely retro, you must serve it in a glass!

Prawn cocktail

Some modern chefs will mention horseradish, some mention avocado, some add brandy and some say to serve it with cucumber or tomatoes but “NO” I say – why would you want to wash away that sexy creamy taste.  Do NOT tamper with perfection!

Most chefs will tell you to serve it with brown bread and butter and yes, this is all very well but it is truly delicious with homemade Wheaten Bread – you can see the recipe for that here.

wheaten bread
wheaten bread

Do you have any recipes handed down from your father?

I’d love to know.

Vohn x

Update: I am entering this into Chris’s Foodie World Cup bloggers challenge, as England are playing today (24th June 2014).

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  1. Suzanne white says:

    your seafood sauce recipe is the same as I was taught at a commercial cooking school in Aust 43 years ago. I have been using it ever since.

    • That’s fab Suzanne. I wish all professional chefs used this recipe – it really is the best! 😀

  2. Yes, I know that feeling of not being able to eat a certain dish in a restaurant. Your dad’s prawn cocktail looks lovely and delicious.

    • Thanks Chris. I think this is the only dish I can’t order – it is just such a very special recipe. 🙂

  3. Holliday Miller says:

    I love prawn cocktail and I also love the photo of Margaret in this post! I’ve never heard of her, but will be looking her up. Thanks for sharing this recipe 🙂

    • Glad you like it Holliday! Yes, Marguerite is a genius – I will do a full blog post on her wonderful life so far some time soon. Vohn x

      • Holliday Miller says:

        Looking forward to reading it! x

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