How To Cook Frozen Prawns For Prawn Cocktail (+ Defrosting Tips)

For those of you who love seafood but are not that confident when it comes to preparing it, frozen prawns or shrimp are an excellent option to keep in your freezer. 

If you have never made a prawn cocktail before then, you really owe it to yourself to make this recipe – once. It is quick and easy, plus the ingredients are surprisingly affordable. 

Although making a prawn cocktail is quite simple, you need to get a few basic things right to make this dish a tasty success. It may be tempting to simply microwave the frozen prawns or thaw them out with hot water, but this is not the best way to start cooking prawns.

prawn cocktail made with frozen prawns

Frozen prawns need to be defrosted and cooked right; otherwise, you can end up with either a squishy or mushy mess or tough, rubbery, and overcooked prawns. 

Did you know: Unless you live near the sea or close to the fish market, you are likely to get frozen prawns anyway? Most supermarket seafood counters sell frozen prawns that have been defrosted in small batches. So what you see in the shop and think are fresh prawns have actually defrosted frozen ones. 

How To Defrost Frozen Prawns For Prawn Cocktail?

defrosting frozen prawns

Whether the frozen prawns you have are raw or cooked, you have to defrost them correctly so that they do not lose their inherent firm and snappy texture and fresh taste. 

The trick is to defrost them properly and cook them quickly. 

Defrosting prawns before cooking is also recommended to prevent overcooking. Overcooking can happen very quickly and result in an unpleasant, rubbery, and chewy texture. 

Also, when cooking straight from frozen, some prawns could end up raw and some overcooked. 

Three ways to defrost frozen prawns: 

1. Thawing In Cold Water Bath

Pour cold water into a large bowl or jug and place the prawns in it. They may be stuck together, and you can use a spoon or ladle to swirl them around. As they get unstuck, you can drain and change the water once. Leave for 15-20 minutes, till they are fully defrosted, drain the water, and use.

2. Thawing Under Running Tap Water 

Put the prawns in a colander and run them under cold water. Let them gradually become unstuck. Run the water on the prawns till they are completely defrosted. Make sure the water is cold and NOT hot; otherwise, the prawns will start cooking. 

3. Defrost In The Refrigerator Overnight 

Place the prawns in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours. Rinse in cold water before using. 

Whichever method you use, drain the water completely, and pat the prawns dry with a paper towel. Any of these methods will help you defrost frozen prawns, making them ready to cook. 

Top Tip: To make preparing your prawn cocktail easier, buy cleaned, deshelled prawns. That will save you from removing the shells, heads, tails, and black intestinal thread (also called deveining), which can be quite tricky and time-consuming.

How To Cook Prawns For A Prawn Cocktail?

cooking prawns for prawn cocktail

Prawns cook very fast. They can go from raw to cooked in as little as three minutes. As such, they need to be closely watched during the cooking process. 

Cooked and peeled prawns and shrimp do not require cooking once thawed. Just pat them dry gentry with a paper towel and add them to the prawn cocktail. 

raw and cooked prawns

However, uncooked, raw prawns and shrimp do require cooking once thawed.

You can cook prawns in one of three ways:

1. Boil Or Poach Them In The Water

poaching shrimp
  1. Put some water into the pan and bring it to a boil. 
  2. Add some kosher salt.
  3. Put in the prawns, reduce heat to ‘low,’ and cook until prawns become opaque and pink and float to the top. This may take 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.
  4. Drain immediately and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. 
  5. Add them to the prawn cocktail. 

You can also use a steaming rack for cooking them if you have one. 

2. Sauté Them

sauteing prawns
  1. Heat olive oil in a wok pan or heavy-bottomed frying pan and put in the well dried-up prawns. 
  2. You can use some clarified butter for a richer taste if you want. 
  3. Sauté (or shallow fry) for 3-4 minutes on each side until they turn pink. 
  4. Refrigerate so that they cool completely.
  5. Add them to your prawn cocktail.

3. Grill Or BBQ Them

grilling prawns

Brush the prawns with melted butter or olive oil and place them on a grill. Cook for 3-5 minutes till they turn pink and a little “white” in color.

You can use any of these methods above to cook your prawns. But don’t leave them unattended while cooking as it takes only a few minutes till they are firm and ready to eat; once overcooked they become chewy and rubbery.

You can, for additional flavoring, add some garlic, herbs, and pepper while cooking the prawns. Do not microwave prawns to cook them. 

Best Prawns For Prawn Cocktail

classic prawn cocktail

While you can use any kind of prawns in the prawn cocktail, you should get a larger size, king, or tiger prawns if you are planning to make a visually beautiful dish for a dinner party. 

However, when making it for your lunch box to take to work or trying out alternative recipes like the prawn Marie rose sandwich, any size will do, depending on the availability and your preference. 

The prawns should appear fresh, succulent, and plump; that is what matters the most. So you can get jumbo prawns, medium prawns, king prawns, or small shrimp.

You can even mix it up and use differently-sized prawns to make the shrimp cocktail. Make sure that they are evenly cooked if you use varied-sized prawns. 

Before buying, check the package and see if they are veined or deveined – if they are veined, you will need to devein them before using. It is also good to check whether they have their shells on or off. 

You will need to de-shell them if they have the shells on, though you can use a few with shells on for a more decorative and attractive-looking prawn cocktail. 

Final Tips

Before making the prawn cocktail, assemble your other ingredients: crispy iceberg lettuce, mayonnaise, fresh or concentrated lemon juice, tomato, other sauces, like Marie Rose Sauce, also known as Thousand Island Dressing, and of course, your cocktail glasses or salad bowl or any other dish. 

A dash of Tabasco, Worcestershire, or any other sauce will add a pop of flavor to the cocktail. 

avocado prawn cocktail

Some of the modern recipes also include mashed avocado or using avocado as a bowl. Also, arugula or rocket makes a good addition to this dish. This recipe leaves a lot of room for improvisation, so don’t be afraid to experiment and add your own flavors and ingredients. 

While the ready-to-serve prawn cocktail can be assembled in advance, it is always wise to keep in mind that prawns will continue’ cooking’ in the presence of an acid (lemon juice, vinegar). So put your dish together as close to serving time as possible. 

If you have any leftovers, prawn cocktails can be kept in the fridge for up to two days. It should be stored in an airtight container and placed at the back of the refrigerator at 30°F (4°C).

It is not safe to eat a prawn cocktail on the following day when left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Bacteria start multiplying rapidly after two hours of being cooked, and the longer it is left out at room temperature. 

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About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.