A big bucket of cooked prawns is a staple for an Aussie Christmas. This year, skip the jarred sauces and make your own, it’s ridiculously fast! Choose from: Cocktail Seafood Sauce, Tartare, Marie Rose / Thousand Island, or a Thai Chilli Lime Sauce for something fresher. Or our Family Favourite Sauce!
A couple of weeks ago, we catered my mother’s annual Christmas party for 30 of her friends. I’ve noticed that we get approached to do this every 2nd year. I think that the organisers assume that we’re scarred by the experience (something to do with our bedraggled appearance at the end?) and that by leaving a year in between, the memory fades and we only remember how much we enjoyed it so we never say no.
We mix it up from year to year. But two things have always remained a constant: Maple Glazed Ham and freshly cooked prawns with dipping sauces. There’s no doubt these two are always the most popular items there.
And thus the job of peeling 5 kg / 10lb of fresh cooked prawns always appears on the list as the most undesirable task for the party. I never put up my hand for that one. So I remain silent until someone volunteers. I say “someone”, but it’s always mother. It happens to her multiple times each year, like a big beach BBQ we went to last month where she was asked to peel and skewer 3kg/6lb of raw prawns (which is even more of a pain!).
I will peel prawns for my mother’s friends. But that is not the Aussie way for a gathering of family and friends. Our way is to dump whole, unpeeled prawns in large bowls and buckets with an assortment of dipping sauces on the Christmas Feasting Table.
Peel your own, mate!
I know it’s real easy to pick up a jar of store bought, especially because at this time of the year, the supermarkets and fish shops are so kind as to put out displays stands jam packed with all sorts of seafood sauces right where the prawns are.
But with little effort – and I’m talking a few minutes – you can make your own and the fresh flavour you’ll enjoy will make you turn up your nose at the jarred stuff. It’s just not the same, the jarred stuff has an edge of artificialness. And I know this for sure because I bought a couple of jars while I was refining these prawn dipping sauces just to do side by side taste tests so I could truly say in all honesty that I think these homemade ones are better.
The freshness – you just can’t get the same freshness in store bought.
So here they are!
1. Marie Rose / Thousand Island Sauce – yep, they’re basically the same thing. You’ll find little tweaks and variations of the two all over the place, but a basic pink sauce made with mayo and ketchup with some seasonings is really all this is. It actually doesn’t have much flavour, and it’s not intended to. It’s a neutral sauce that let’s the flavour of the prawns really shine.
2. Seafood Cocktail Sauce – This is the punchier flavoured version of Marie Rose. The sauce itself actually has flavour, it’s tangy and kind of savoury, with more layers of flavour because there’s more ingredients in this. I’m a big fan of this one, love the tanginess.
3 Tartare Sauce – just like what you get at the local fish and chip shop! (Except better, because you can actually taste the gherkins and capers in it)
4 Thai Sweet Chilli Lime Dipping Sauce – because not everyone likes mayo based dipping sauces! The flavours in this with sweet juicy prawns is simply a match made in heaven.
5 RecipeTin Family Favourite Prawn Dipping Sauce – it’s basically a jacked up Marie Rose Sauce, with the added freshness of dill. This is what we served with the prawns at my mother’s Christmas Party and everybody commented on how they loved it, especially the fresh dill flavour. So I thought I should share it.
6. More Sauces! Try these sauces from other recipes I’ve shared that will go great with prawns! Spicy Thai Mango Dipping Sauce, use Honey Mustard Dressing as a sauce (perfect prawn dipping consistency), Sweet & Sour Sauce, Lemon Cream Sauce, Creamy Dill Sauce.
Personally, I would provide 2 dipping sauces. Good rule of thumb is to go by contrasting colours. So, for example, If I knew everyone was fine with mayo, I’d probably do the RecipeTin Family Favourite plus the Cocktail Sauce. I wouldn’t do Marie Rose + Tartare because they are a bit too similar in flavour. If I knew someone health conscious was coming, I’d definitely include the Thai Sweet Chilli Lime Sauce.
But truthfully? Don’t overthink it. Let’s face it. Juicy, fresh cooked prawns are great just as they are, eaten plain. No one will cry if you didn’t even provide a sauce at all, or if you just pulled out a jar of mayo and stirred through a squirt of lemon juice.
Remember, Christmas is supposed to be all about having fun and enjoying this festive time, not stressing out about the menu! – Nagi x
PS Speaking of not stressing out, all those sauces can be made days ahead, with the exception of the Thai one which I would not make more than 1 day ahead, just to ensure the fresh flavour is retained to the max.
PPS Way more important than the sauces is to ensure you get good fresh prawns! ORDER THEM NOW to pick up in the morning of the day you need them (ideal) but if it’s for Christmas Day, pick them up the day before. The seafood stores / fish market is where you’ll get the best quality but in all honesty, at this time of the year, you get great quality cooked prawns at Coles and Woolies too, and they are about 25 – 30% cheaper.
Choose from a classic pink Marie Rose / Thousand Island sauce, Tartare, Seafood Cocktail Sauce, a Thai Sweet Chilli Lime Sauce for something fresher (not everyone likes mayo!) or our Family Favourite Prawn Dipping Sauce, a cross between Marie Rose and Tartare with more freshness and flavour. See notes for description of each sauce. All these sauces will be great with any seafood (fish, squid) and especially with lobster, crab, balmain bugs, scallops etc. No video today - these are all just dump and mix!!
- 2/3 cup / 160 g tomato ketchup
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1/4 tsp each mustard powder (or Dijon), onion powder, garlic powder, white sugar
- Dash Tabasco
- 1 tsp lemon juice, fresh
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup / 220g mayonnaise (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp gherkin/cornichon, very finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp capers, drained and finely chopped
- 1.5 tbsp lemon juice, fresh
- 1/2 tsp white sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup / 145g mayonnaise (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tsp fresh horseradish (or sub 1 1/2 tsp jarred)
- Dash of Tabasco
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 5 tbsp / 75g Sweet Chilli Sauce, store bought (I use Trident)
- 2/3 cup / 165 ml lime juice, fresh (4 - 5 limes)
- 5 tbsp / 75 ml olive oil (can sub with neutral oil like canola)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tbsp white sugar (or other)
- 1/4 cup coriander / cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup / 145g mayonnaise (Note 1)
- 1/3 cup / 80 g ketchup
- 1 1/2 tbsp capers, drained and finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp gherkin/cornichon, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp eschallot or onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup dill leaves, finely chopped
- 1 dash Worcestershire Sauce
- 4 or so dashes of Tabasco
- 1 tbsp lemon juice (adjust to taste)
Place ingredients in a bowl and mix to combine.
Adjust salt to taste (Note 3).
Place all ingredients except coriander in a bowl, whisk well. Stir through coriander and add salt and pepper to taste. Rest 20 minutes before using.
1. MAYONNAISE: Wow, what a difference good mayonnaise makes to a sauce, I was pretty amazed! My favourite is S&W Whole Egg Mayonnaise and Hellman's, both of which are sold in Australia in supermarkets. Now is not the time to go diet, so no low fat please, completely changes the flavour. If you use a better value mayonnaise (eg. store brand), you will typically find they are sweeter and have slightly less richness (higher water content, less egg), so omit the sugar in every recipe (if applicable) then add at the end to taste.
2. SALTINESS OF SAUCES: Remember that prawns themselves are salty so you don't need the sauce to be super salty. So go easy on the salt - the best way to determine if there's enough salt is to taste test with a prawn (such a big ask!).
3. HOW TO SERVE: Serve sauces with freshly cooked prawns - if you are feeling generous, peel them for your guests. Otherwise, do it the Aussie way and just lay out big bowls of whole prawns and make everyone peel their own! Don't forget to provide bowls for discarding shells, and it's also nice to provide little bowls of water with lemon slices (finger cleaning bowls). Wet towels for cleaning hands is also nice!
4. HOW MUCH PRAWNS TO GET: Entirely depends on how much food there is! Catering 250g / 8 oz of whole uncooked prawns per person is a pretty generous amount, in my view. The reason being that I find that some people lose steam when it comes to the peeling part! If it's part of a larger starter spread with lots of other nibbly things, just 100g/3.5 oz per person is sufficient.
HOW MUCH SAUCE TO MAKE: If you have sauce-greedy family and friends who will try to scoop up as much sauce as possible with every bite (you know who they are!), then 1 cup is only going to be enough for around 1 kg / 2 lb whole uncooked prawns. If they are normal, then it should be enough for 2 kg / 4 lb whole uncooked prawns.
HOW ANY SAUCES TO MAKE: I would generally make 2 sauces, choosing ones that aren't too similar. I would not make Marie Rose + Tartare, or even either of those with the Family Favourite one (too similar). I would pair one of those 3 with the Cocktail Sauce or Thai one.
5. Description of each sauce:
Pink Marie Rose Sauce / Thousand Island sauce - these are essentially the same thing. This sauce has a very neutral flavour that let's the flavour of the prawns really shine.
Tartare Sauce - just like what you get at the local fish and chip shop, but it tastes fresher and more real.
Seafood Cocktail Sauce - the strongest flavoured sauce, this is tangy and has more layers of flavour because of the ingredients in it. Popular sauce sold in jars at supermarkets here in Australia, but homemade tastes so much better - stronger, better flavour and no underlying edge of artificialness. It's the same as the sauces served with shrimp in the US.
Thai Sweet Chilli Lime Sauce - pairs beautifully with prawns, nice alternative to mayo based sauces.
Family Favourite Sauce - a cross between Marie Rose and Tartare, with more flavour. It was a hit at a Christmas Party we recently catered, everyone especially commented on how great the fresh dill flavour was.
LIFE OF DOZER
You’d think I was tossing prawns for him to catch. But no. Just sand. Ever seen such enthusiasm for sand??