If you are a child of the ‘70s, as I am, you have seen your fair share of shrimp cocktails. It is a classic, but I am waking it up with a fun flavor twist in the cocktail sauce. You’ll find the flavors familiar—from a brunch standard, the bloody Mary—and it’s bringing a zesty jolt of flavor to the chilled freshness of sweet juicy shrimp, which never goes out of style.
If you’re entertaining for New Year’s, this is an easy way to elevate a classic and please any palate. Begin with your favorite ketchup and dress it up with the ingredients you’d enjoy in a bloody Mary; think crunchy pickles, zippy horseradish, herbaceous celery seed, a shake or two of hot sauce or Worcestershire (or both) and, yes, a shot of vodka.
We like our flavors hot at our house, so I used a “hotter” variety of Texas Pete hot sauce, plus spicy Wickles brand pickles and “extra hot” horseradish. But if you prefer milder flavors, adjust accordingly. You could swap any flavors to suit your fancy. Pretty much anything that would work in a bloody Mary will work here. Same with your garnish.
For the shrimp, do what’s best or easy for you, whether purchasing already cooked, steaming them or perhaps trying the roasting method I’ll demonstrate below. Whichever method you choose, be sure the shrimp have plenty of time to chill. Serve them in individual cocktail glasses for an impressive presentation and garnish as you would a bloody Mary!
Ingredients (serves 6)
18 jumbo shrimp* (see notes)
6 Tbsp. ketchup
2 Tbsp. finely minced onion or shallot
2 Tbsp. finely minced sweet, spicy or dill pickle
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. cayenne hot sauce, such as Texas Pete or Tabasco
1/2 tsp. celery seed
Splash or two of pickle juice
1 shot good quality vodka
Take time to notice where your shrimp has been sourced, as some farming methods are bad for the environment and the seafood processing standards in some parts of the world are rife with human rights violations. Whenever possible, choose domestic (U.S. produced) shrimp that is either wild caught or sustainably farmed. Clean, peel and devein the shrimp, but keep the tails on for best presentation.
I used 16-20 count shrimp, which means there are 16-20 per pound. If you are serving the cocktail as an appetizer, three shrimp per person is a good starting point.
As a side note, it occurs to me that this zesty cocktail sauce would also be terrific with raw or steamed oysters.
Cook the shrimp, using your preferred method. Chill it thoroughly in the refrigerator before serving.
Stir all sauce ingredients together in a bowl and chill until ready to serve. For presentation, spoon about 2 tablespoons of sauce into a shallow cocktail glass and hang the chilled shrimp on the edge of the glass. Garnish with a wedge of fresh lemon and a cocktail olive, onion, pepperoncini, etc.
The roasting method may seem fussy, but it is actually easier than boiling or steaming, because it doesn’t move so quickly. It’s so frustrating to accidentally overcook something as delicate and expensive as shrimp.
Preheat the oven to 400° F, with oven rack in center position. Peel and de-vein shrimp and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Give them a quick spray of olive oil (or toss them lightly in olive oil) and sprinkle both sides lightly with Old Bay seasoning or (more simply) salt and pepper.
Roast for 7 minutes, until shrimp are just opaque. Immediately transfer shrimp to a bowl and chill them down quickly in the freezer for several minutes or plunge the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. The goal is to bring down the temperature quickly so that the shrimp don’t overcook to become tough.
Of all the things I love about writing a blog—and there are many, from seeing a record of my kitchen accomplishments to moving another bucket list item to the “done” column to hearing the stories from others who have tried my dishes—the best benefit of all is meeting new friends. I had the most wonderful opportunity to do just that when my husband, Les, and I traveled by car for our recent vacation. Our trip was slated to take us up I-95 through Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Delaware and into New Jersey, and I was thrilled that my blogging pal, Bernadette, was open to a meet-up. She had mentioned many times on her own blog, New Classic Recipe, that she was a resident of the Garden State, and fate was on our side because we were able to meet just one quick exit off the highway, on our way up to the northern part of the state.
I first came to know about Bernadette because she began commenting on some of my posts near the end of 2020, most notably the Oysters Rockefeller Pizza, and when I checked out her blog (WordPress is good that way, encouraging you to check out the bloggers who like your pages), I found myself also mesmerized by stories of her travels and food adventures, and especially the Italian recipes, including this one for fried, stuffed olives. We began following each other’s blogs, but I didn’t expect I would meet her one day.
At least, not until a couple of weeks ago. 😊
Once our travel plans became clear, I reached out to Bernadette privately, and she was terrific to recommend places near her that we could connect in person, and I’m so glad that we did! We gabbed over lunch—about food and blogging, about family and friendship, and the time just went so fast, as Les and I were suddenly back in the car and on our way to the rest of our action-packed vacation.
Before we parted, my new friend surprised me with a gift bag that contained two jars of handmade preserves, which I treasure. One of them is fig, which we will most certainly dig into when the holidays arrive, and the other is blackberry-prosecco. As much as I have enjoyed slathering the latter on my breakfast toast, I wanted to make something delicious and special with it, both to honor my new friend and to show appreciation for this (literally) sweet handmade food gift. This recipe is simple to make because it relies on store-bought puff pastry, but it has a little bit of “wow” factor, thanks to a pretty shaping method that is very easy to do. And the blackberry-prosecco preserves offer just the right kiss of sweetness on top of a cream cheese cushion.
My intention for these pastries is to serve them for breakfast or brunch, and because September is Better Breakfast Month, it seems apropos to do so. But honestly, there’s no reason these could not also be served as a light dessert, perhaps even with a glass of prosecco, in a friendly nod to the prosecco in Bernadette’s preserves.
Preheat the oven to 400° F, with oven rack in the center position.
Remove puff pastry from package and roll out on a lightly floured counter or board. Use a rolling pin to gently press out any folds in the pastry and aim to keep the pastry sheet in a mostly square/rectangle shape.
Using a pizza wheel, trim the edges all around and cut the pastry into six roughly equal size squares. Arrange the squares on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. It is not necessary to have much space between them.
Use a paring knife to cut diagonally from the corners of each pastry square toward the center, but keep about 1½ inches of the center fully intact. Fold every other point toward the center, slightly overlapping them in the middle. Press down firmly on the centers with your thumb to ensure the pastry stays put.
Divide the sweetened cream cheese mixture among the pastry pinwheels. Each should have about 1 tablespoon. Gently press the center of the cream cheese with the back of a spoon to create an impression. Fill each impression with a small spoonful of your favorite preserves.
Brush all exposed pastry dough with egg wash. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until pastries are puffy and golden. Rotate baking sheet about halfway through the time, for even browning.
Cool pastries on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.
I spent two years in French class during high school, and that is pretty much all I remember how to ask—“excusez-moi, où est le parapluie?” I suppose it is a question that would have been essential had I become a world traveler (I didn’t), and in fact it was a common question asked among my fellow French club members when we took our senior trip to Quebec City, Canada—they don’t speak much English there, in case you didn’t know. It rained the entire three-day weekend, but it was still a glorious visit to a city rich with history and speckled with exquisite, copper-roofed buildings.
Spanish would undoubtedly have been a more useful class for me, given the increase of Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. since I graduated all those years ago. But there was something sooo sexy about the French spoken word, and well, my best friend signed up for French so I did, too. Our teacher was cool and we got to choose our own names for the class, which was good because there wasn’t a name on the list that was a literal translation for Terrie. My friend Debbie became Christine, pronounced CREE-steen, my friend Christine became Danielle and yours truly selected the name Jacqueline, which was fun to say—zhah-KLEEN, like the French fashion designer who steals Nigel’s dream job in The Devil Wears Prada.
French class was always lively, and we were encouraged to play up the accent and the nasal sound as much as possible. We went through round after round of language exercises, covering the French words for common places, including the bookstore (la librairie) and the library (la bibliothèque) and reciting all the various tenses of the verb words, and for every kind of individual and group instance. For example: for the verb “go,” we would cycle through the French words that meant, “I go, you go, he goes, she goes, we go and they go.” Round and round we went, and after all that repetitious recitation, all I remember how to say is “where is the umbrella?”
Anyway, for me, there is still a lot of mystery and intrigue associated with the French language, and I learned during my short time working in the Pinch of Thyme catering kitchen that if you want people to swoon over food, call it something French! As luck would have it, I do at least remember some of the French words for certain foods, including poulet (chicken), champignons (mushrooms) and carottes (carrots, obviously). I was excited to find this recipe in my most recent digital edition of Imbibe magazine because I have used splashes of vermouth in a few dishes and found it more complex and vibrant than wine, which would traditionally be used for braising chicken in the classic coq au vin. But this recipe was more than a splash, it was a generous amount in a very French-technique kind of recipe.
I could not resist turning this into a Sunday Supper meal, with a side of buttered red bliss potatoes and sauteed spinach, and it was—how shall I say—très délicieux!
A word or few about vermouth…
I have known about vermouth for decades, but it has only been the past couple of years that I have become more closely acquainted with it, and today I almost always have a bottle open in the fridge for an end-of-day gin martini. Vermouth is a fortified wine, which means other alcohol has been added to grapes during fermentation, and that results in higher alcohol by volume than typical wine. Any variety of botanical ingredients are thrown into the process as well, including herbs, bitter ingredients, bark, roots and spices. Vermouth may be red or white, dry or sweet or really sweet, depending on its origin and method, and it is commonly used as an ingredient for classic cocktails, including martinis and Manhattans. Vermouth, on its own, is also a popular apéritif (pre-dinner drink) in Spain, Italy, France and my house.
In a literal French-to-English translation, coq au vermouth would demand use of a rooster, but it is not every day that you’d find such a creature in your local market. Large hen thighs is what I used for the recipe, and it was tender, flavorful and oh so fancy. Don’t be intimidated, though, because despite all of the foreign language I’ve been throwing around, this was a very simple dish to make. All you need is a cast iron skillet, chicken thighs, bacon, mushrooms and mirepoix—oops, another French word that is simply a mix of carrots, onions and celery. All that, plus a decent amount of dry white vermouth. Don’t worry, vermouth is easy to find, wherever you might buy wine. To keep the recipe true to its origin, choose a brand from France. I used Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry, dry, in the green bottle. 😊
4 large, free-range chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium onion, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick diagonal slices
2 stalks celery, cleaned, ribs removed and diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
About 1 cup cremini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters
1/2 cup dry vermouth (extra dry would be fine, also)
1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
2 fresh sprigs of thyme
2 Tbsp. cold butter
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
Let’s run through it in pictures first, and if you keep scrolling, you’ll find the instructions spelled out (in English), and I’ll also include a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper. Cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the edges begin to crisp. Transfer the pieces to a paper-towel lined dish, keeping all the bacon grease in the skillet. Arrange the chicken thighs, skin side down, into the skillet. Cook them until the skin is crispy and golden, then turn the pieces and cook the other side about two minutes.
Transfer the thighs to a plate and cover loosely with foil to keep them warm. Add the mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery) to the fond (pan drippings) in the skillet. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and mushrooms, tossing with the other vegetables until slightly browned. Pour in the vermouth and vegetable broth, and simmer for about two minutes.
Return the chicken thighs to the skillet, skin side up. Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the top and lay the whole thyme sprigs in a criss-cross fashion over the combination. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet tightly and simmer about 30 minutes.
Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate. Add the cold butter and lemon juice to the simmered vegetable mixture and stir until it is a rich, luscious sauce. Just before plating, place the thighs, skin side down, into the skillet to drench them in the sauce. Plate the chicken, then spoon the simmered vegetable mixture (a.k.a. mélange) over the thighs.
If you think “elegant” and “easy” cannot co-exist in the kitchen, allow me to introduce you to this moist and flaky salmon, wrapped in layer upon layer of crispy buttery phyllo and dressed with a champagne-and-cream sauce that sends it over the top. As impressive and fancy as this sounds, you may find it hard to believe that it is easy to make. But if you can use a paintbrush and wrap a small birthday gift, you have the skills to do this.
Don’t be intimidated by the delicate, flaky layers of phyllo. This paper-thin wheat dough that is popular in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine is not as fussy as it may seem. My first experience with phyllo was years ago in a catering kitchen, where I worked part-time during peak seasons, including holidays. The kitchen team wrapped this stuff around nearly everything in those days—appetizers, entrees and desserts—and though I was nervous at first about handling phyllo, I got over it quickly with a few helpful tips. Give it time to thaw overnight before you start, brush or spray every layer with oil or melted butter, and do your best to keep the extra sheets covered so they don’t dry out. Those are the key rules. Get it right and the rest is easy.
There is flexibility in this recipe, too. You can swap out the seasonings, use different fish and even change up the sauce if you want. Once you nail the technique of phyllo (which you will after this), there are many possibilities. Finally, whether you’ll be serving two people or eight, you’ll appreciate being able to prepare these cute little “packages” ahead of time and just pop them in the oven in time for dinner. Yes, so much easier than it looks. But every bit as elegant; the champagne cream sauce can be whipped up while the salmon is in the oven.
For a restaurant quality presentation, here’s a simple trick I learned from pro caterers: place the salmon phyllo packet on top of the sauce rather than smothering it. You’ll want your loved ones and guests to see the full beauty of the delicate phyllo. This little flip is one of the simplest things you can do at home to elevate a meal that includes a sauce. Let the swooning commence.
My recipe is for two adult servings. Adjust accordingly for extra portions.
Fresh salmon fillet (5 oz. for each serving), skin removed* (see notes)
Salt and pepper
Fresh or dried dill leaves
5 sheets phyllo dough*
1/2 stick salted butter, melted (possibly more if you brush heavily)
Champagne Cream Sauce
1/2 cup champagne (or dry white wine, such as pinot grigio)
1 small shallot, finely minced*
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup half & half (or light cream)
1 1/2 tsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
A couple of pinches of white pepper
If your supermarket offers pre-portioned salmon fillets, that’s a good way to go. Ideally, you want the skin removed from the fish (they will usually do this for you at the fish counter, but I will teach you how to do it yourself).
Any kind of salmon (sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works for this recipe, but you may also substitute steelhead (ocean) trout or arctic char. Both are mild in flavor but similar in texture to farm-raised salmon. In the photos for this post, I used steelhead trout and it was delicious.
Phyllo is a paper-thin wheat dough, popular in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine. You’ll find it in the freezer section near the pie crusts and puff pastry. The brand I buy comes in 9 x 14” sheets, which are very manageable and large enough to wrap two fillets.
If you don’t have shallots, substitute very finely minced sweet or red onion. Do not confuse scallions for shallots. As you can see, they are most definitely not the same. 😊
You’re about to see how easy it is to make this impressive phyllo-wrapped salmon, but first, a few tips for success when working with phyllo:
Use melted butter on every layer of the phyllo. Keep the new sheets covered with a clean towel to prevent them drying out as you work. Use a pastry mat for brushing the phyllo with butter or clean your counter really well before and after. Transfer unused phyllo to a gallon-sized zip top bag and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Store it in the refrigerator but try to use it within a week.
Gather up the tools you’ll need, including a sharp chef knife (to remove salmon skin), a pastry mat or clean section of counter space, a heavy-duty baking sheet and a pastry brush for spreading butter on the phyllo layers.
Have a look at the slides first, then keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Follow package instructions for thawing the phyllo. It usually requires overnight in the fridge or a few hours on the counter.
Preheat oven to 375° F, with oven rack in the center. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove the skin from the salmon if the fishmonger did not do this for you. Beginning at the tail end with the flesh side up, carefully slide the tip of a sharp knife between the flesh and skin, just enough to loosen about 2 inches of skin. Grab the skin with a paper towel. Position the knife at a low angle, and gently tug the skin side to side, holding the knife firmly in place. Continue to pull the skin until it releases from the fillet.
Cut the fish into equal portions, approximately 5 ounces each. Sprinkle the fillets with salt, pepper and dried dill leaves. Set aside.
Spray a pastry mat or clean section of the counter with olive oil spray. Melt butter in a small bowl. You may need to re-heat the butter as you go. Unroll the phyllo dough so that the sheets are lying flat.
Carefully spread one sheet of phyllo dough onto the counter, gently pressing down the edges to keep it in place. It may tear or fold on itself in some place, but this is OK. The layers will help to hide imperfections so just keep going. Remember to cover the remaining phyllo sheets with a clean towel and damp paper towel to prevent them from drying while you work.
Brush melted butter all over the phyllo sheet, starting in the center, and cover the full sheet all the way to the edges. Repeat with four more layers of phyllo.
Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo stack in half, creating two smaller rectangle-shaped stacks. Arrange the salmon fillets, face side-down on the center of each new rectangle.
Fold the short end of the phyllo stack up over the salmon, then fold in the sides and the other end. Brush the packet with melted butter, then turn it over and brush the other side. Transfer the packet to the cookie sheet and repeat with the other fish packet. If you are working ahead, cover with plastic film and refrigerate. When you’re ready to bake, remove from fridge while oven preheats.
Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes, until phyllo is golden brown. Prepare sauce while fish is baking.
Spoon a portion of sauce onto each serving plate. Carefully cut fish packet in half and stack the halves on top of the champagne cream sauce.
Champagne Mustard Cream Sauce
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine champagne and shallots. Cook over medium heat to a light boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Whisk flour into half & half until smooth. Add to champagne mixture and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Dijon mustard, white pepper and salt to taste. Keep sauce warm until ready to serve.