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The Prawn Cocktail Years

The Prawn Cocktail Years

Simon Hopkinson Lindsey Bareham

A few years ago, after a long day's session with Roast Chicken and Other Stories, we sat at the kitchen table and cracked open a nice bottle of Alsace. About halfway through we fell to talking about dishes we had loved and lost, those dishes that we had grown up with and memories of early restaurant outings. Before long, our giggles turned to nostalgia and we started to scribble down a list of those fondly remembered dishes. They just came pouring out: Coquilles St-Jacques, Sole Veronique, Beef Stroganoff, Mixed Grill, Swedish Meatballs, Wiener Schnitzel, Chicken Maryland, Crepes Suzette, Peach Melba and Profiteroles. And, of course, Prawn Cocktail.

Everybody, but everybody, loves Prawn Cocktail. We even tolerate a bad one - and we all know there are plenty of those. But the universal appeal of the Prawn Cocktail can be compared with another (more modern) ubiquitous favourite. The McDonald's hamburger is also highly addictive. The bun is ersatz and sweet, the meat is hardly your specialist chopped steak, the cheese is as far away from farmhouse Cheddar as you can possibly get and the pickle and ketchup are, well... just pickle and ketchup. However, the combination of all these components results in something so tasty that we are all hooked.

Prawn Cocktail is exactly the same: the shredded lettuce which sits at the bottom of the dish together with the pappy pink prawn in its sweet pink sauce somehow combines to deliver a dish which contradicts all the rules that constitute fine cooking.