A collation of cooked, shelled, prawns with salad and a rich cream sauce colored with tomato.
Although popularised by 1970's celebrity cooks such as Fanny Cradock and now considered a defining dish of the era, we find the term first appearing in the 1930s. The first literary reference seems to be in the 1931 short story 'It Means Mischief' by Roland Pertwee (father of the Dr Who actor, John Pertwee) and the first published receipt in 1936...
Original Receipt from Daily Mirror - Monday 06 July 1936
PRAWNS and shrimps are ideal for salads and sauces, and are also popular in a selection of hors d'oeuvres varies. My favourite way is to serve them in a cocktail to take the place of soup or fish as a first course.
PRAWN COCKTAIL For four persons allow: Half lettuce, A pint prawns, pint cream. seasoning, Cayenne pepper, a little tomato ketchup, a squeeze of lemon juice. Method.-Shred the prepared lettuce finely and arrange it in the bottom of four large goblets or coupe-jacques glasses. Whisk the cream until it is thick, but not stiff. Stir in the shelled prawns, seasoning, lemon juice and tomato ketchup to taste. Pile this mixture on the lettuce, stick a prawn's head on top for decoration and serve immediately. The flavour of this cocktail is much improved if the ingredients are well chilled in a refrigerator before it is made.
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