Alison Roman's prawn cocktail

Photo: Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott (courtesy Hardie Grant Books)

"You know those people at a party who stand by the prawn cocktail platter and not so secretly eat pretty much the whole platter, hoping nobody notices but also not caring enough to stop? That is 100 per cent me at every party," says Alison Roman. "That’s why I’ve decided that I will no longer wait for a holiday or somebody’s birthday so I can eat endless prawn cocktail. I will throw my own party, for which I will poach my own prawns and make my own cocktail sauce, and eat half of it myself, probably. There doesn’t need to be an occasion, reason or excuse to do this. Or perhaps you do, and the reason is ‘I feel like eating a lot of prawn cocktail tonight’, and that will be good enough.

"As for the sauces, I like my cocktail sauce on the spicy, lemony side, but it’s up to you how lemony or spicy your own cocktail sauce is. I’m also not one of those people who have to have horseradish in their cocktail sauce, but if you feel passionately about this, go on ahead and add it. Aioli is not classically involved in prawn cocktail, but to me the more dips in any given situation, the better. Mayonnaise doctored with lots of lemon and raw garlic will also do the trick.

"Cocktail sauce can be made two weeks ahead, but honestly, if you’re prepping food for a party two weeks ahead, you should relax a little!"

Serves 6–10



500ml (2 cups) Heinz ketchup

60ml (¼ cup) lemon juice, plus extra to taste

3tbsp yuzu kosho or harissa paste, plus extra to taste

1tbsp worcestershire or Maggi sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated or prepared horseradish (if you must)


Prawns and serving

1kg large raw, unpeeled prawns


1 large onion, quartered

1 handful black peppercorns

3 lemons, 1 halved crossways and 2 quartered

Olives or cornichons (optional)

Lemony Aioli (optional)


Lemony Aioli

Makes 2 cups

2 large egg yolks

2tsp lemon juice, plus extra to taste


125ml (½ cup) olive oil

125ml (½ cup) grapeseed or vegetable oil

1 small garlic clove, finely grated (optional)

1tbsp finely grated lemon zest (optional)


1. Make the sauce. Combine the ketchup, lemon juice, yuzu kosho and worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice, if you like. If you’re a real purist, go ahead and add a spoonful or two of horseradish, or simply season with more yuzu kosho. Set aside to serve with the prawns, or eat shamelessly with a spoon.

2. Prepare the prawns. Peel but do not devein the prawns (otherwise they will get all curly when they cook). If the idea of eating undeveined prawns really, really bothers you, go ahead and devein them, but it’s really not a big deal, I promise!

3. Bring a large pot of highly salted (salty like the sea!) water to the boil and add the onion and peppercorns. Working in batches as needed, lower the prawns into the pot and cook just until they’re bright pink and opaque, 3–4 minutes. Drain or remove using a slotted spoon and transfer to a baking tray so they can cool down as quickly as possible. (Should you miraculously have space in your refrigerator, place them in there to chill faster.) Continue to cook the prawns, as needed.

4. To serve, squeeze some of the halved lemon over the prawns. Fill a large bowl with ice and then place the prawns on top with the lemon wedges; there’s no need to arrange them concentrically or anything, just however you think looks nice. If desired, scatter a few olives or tiny cornichons onto the ice as well. Be sure to provide a little dish for the tails.

5. Serve with the cocktail sauce and lemony aioli for dipping.


Lemony aioli

1. Whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl (one that is deeper than it is wide, if possible – it’s easier to emulsify everything together when it’s concentrated in one area). Combine both oils together in a measuring cup with a spout.

2. In a slow, steady stream, add the oil mixture to the egg mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking all along, making sure whatever you’ve added is completely incorporated before whisking more oil in. Continue with all the oil, thinning with water or lemon juice as needed to keep the future aioli from becoming too thick. (The ideal thickness is extremely personal, but when you know, you know.)

3. Whisk in the garlic and lemon zest, if using, and season with more salt and lemon juice as desired.

This is an edited extract from Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman published by Hardie Grant Books ($45). Available where all good books are sold.