Keep your guests coming back for more with this homemade cocktail sauce recipe.
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Sweetness from ketchup, bright acidity from lemons, salty malt from Worcestershire, spicy heat from the hot sauce, and, of course, that signature tangy bite from the pungent horseradish — a good solid cocktail sauce captures this nuanced cross-section of flavors that harmonize like a skilled chorus, perfectly supporting the notes of their soloist singer: Briny, succulent seafood morsels like shrimp, oysters, crab, and calamari.

If you want your seafood to really sing, the secret's in the sauce. Make a well-balanced cocktail sauce, and it'll keep everyone coming back for more.

And for the best cocktail-sauce experience, you really must make your own. The store-bought cocktail sauce just doesn't have the depth of flavor that freshly made cocktail sauce does.

Plus, when you make it yourself, you can tailor your sauce to your taste buds' delight. Like the sinus-opening fire of horseradish? Then go heavy-handed on the spicy root. Are you a hot-sauce lover? Turn the recommended few dashes of the sauce into a tablespoon or more, if you like. You get the gist.

Now, while you can tweak the recipe to suit your tastes, if you're making a batch for a crowd, we recommend going with a classic recipe for the main bowl. Then offer ramekins and extra lemon wedges, horseradish, hot sauce, ketchup, and Worcestershire on the side, so guests can gussy up the sauce to their liking.

How to Make Cocktail Sauce Step-by-Step

We defer to Chef John's cocktail sauce as capturing the definitive cocktail sauce flavor that we all know and love. Chef John's Shrimp Cocktail recipe comes with an herbaceous and perfectly seasoned poaching liquid for cooking the shrimp before an ice bath and the royal shrimp-cocktail treatment (Think: A martini glass with the little crustaceans draped over the edge in a perfect display, like synchronized swimmers from an Old Hollywood musical number).

But everyone, including Chef John, knows the "not-so-secret sauce" to shrimp cocktail: It's the cocktail sauce. "I'm sure I enjoyed the shrimp," says Chef John. "But what I really loved was dipping the crackers in the spicy, horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce."

Making this fabulous cocktail sauce takes little effort — a squeeze of lemon and a little stirring, then chill the mixture in the fridge for 15 minutes, and you're set.

Shrimp cocktail with lemon and crackers on green and blue plate
Pictured: Chef John's Shrimp Cocktail
| Credit: SHORECOOK

Here's What You'll Need:

  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup chili sauce
  • ¼ cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 drops hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions:

  1. Whisk ketchup, chili sauce, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and salt together in a bowl.
  2. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 15 minutes.

How to Use Leftover Cocktail Sauce

Now, if you're left with a bunch of leftover cocktail sauce, don't waste it. The next morning, add it to tomato-vegetable juice along with some freshly ground pepper, a dash of celery salt, and an ounce or two of vodka — and voila! — you've got yourself a mighty fine Bloody Mary. Garnish with your favorite Bloody Mary fixings, including some leftover shrimp, if you have it.

Others have used cocktail sauce in a number of creative and delicious ways, such as Great Hot Crab Dip, Layered Seafood Dip, Cocktail Wieners II, Mistakenly Zesty Pork Chops, Bourbon Sausage, Crabmeat Roll-ups, and even Easy Slow Cooker Ribs.

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