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Bob Hart’s recipe for the prawn cocktail

Peter 'Grubby' Stubbs
Article image for Bob Hart’s recipe for the prawn cocktail


It was, for more years than most of us would care to remember, the entrée around which our worlds revolved.

It was simple enough: a portion of cooked but unembellished prawns, peeled and served on shredded iceberg lettuce and then rudely draped with an occasionally lethal “cocktail” sauce.

At its best, the sauce was a mix of mayo and ketchup and, if you were lucky, a splash of Worcestershire or Tabasco. And even a light sprinkle of cayenne if your Mum had ideas above her station or your Dad’s boss was coming to dinner.

Some of our best cooks – Neil Perry for one – have taken a crack at reviving the prawn cocktail and Simon Hopkinson, an amusing Pom who is also a fine cook, has written a book called The Prawn Cocktail Years in which he tries to persuade us to revive the P.C. and other equally disturbing dishes from the period.

But I shall do no such thing. I will, however, try to persuade you to create and serve up my-new-and-improved, barbecued prawn cocktail. Try this:

For two people, you will need a dozen large, green (uncooked) tiger prawns, or similar. If they are frozen, thaw them gently. Then, leaving both the heads and shells in place, split each down the middle of the back, starting at the base of the head, cutting through the shell just far enough into the prawn’s body to allow you to lever out the poop tube and discard.

Rinse the cleaned prawns well, and dry them. Marinate them for an hour or two in the zest of a couple of unwaxed (or well washed) limes, a couple of pressed garlic cloves, a finely chopped birds-eye chilli, about 2cm of peeled, fresh ginger also put through a garlic press, 2tbs of fish sauce and the same volume of EV olive oil. Mix well in a large bowl, add the prawns and refrigerate.

Now create your own cocktail sauce: to 150mls of Best Foods, Kewpie (or similar) mayo, add 1tbs Sriracha tomato ketchup (widely available, but make your own by adding Sriracha to your favourite ketchup if you can’t find it), 1tsp fresh horseradish (or bottled if fresh is not available, but not horseradish sauce) and a casual sprinkle of cayenne.

Fire up a barbecue grill to 200C or a touch higher – ideally over solid fuel with a hint of hickory or pecan, but gas will get the job done provided the grill bars are hot, clean and oiled, and the BBQ covered. Lift the prawns out of the marinade, place them, at 45 degrees to the bars, on the grill and drop the lid. After 3 minutes, lift the lid and flip them, drop the lid and after 2 or 3 more minutes, lift them off the grill and rest them.

When they have cooled sufficiently for you to handle, remove the heads and shells, but leave the tails. Position six on each of two plates beside half an iceberg lettuce which you have scooped out sufficiently for it to accommodate a generous portion of the sauce, and then squeeze over some of the juice from the two limes you zested for the marinade, over the prawns.  Eat!

Peter 'Grubby' Stubbs