Yesterday, I was watching my 11-year old daughter eat Chargrilled Oysters at Drago’s in New Orleans while my seven year-old son ate fried shrimp.
Oysters and shrimp are the foods from my youth which still lease a substantial plot of real estate in my heart.
While we were sitting at the counter in Drago’s, my son said, “Daddy will you please mix up some cocktail sauce for me?” As I was placing all of the ingredients in his small ramekin, my mind traveled back to a long-gone restaurant on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Baricev’s restaurant in Biloxi was my family’s special occasion restaurant when we were on the coast. I ate my first raw oyster there while sitting at a table with my grandfather. He made a simple cocktail sauce for me with the ingredients on the oyster tray and the condiments on the table. It was my first exposure to horseradish. I loved it.
The next time we were there, I made my own cocktail sauce: Ketchup, lots of horseradish, freshly squeezed lemon juice, a dash of Worcestershire, and some pepper. Simple, pure, flavorful. It’s the recipe I still use today when making cocktail sauce. It’s the recipe we’ve used in the Crescent City Grill for 21 years.
Actually, at 10-year’s old— and after a lifetime of recipes— Cocktail Sauce is probably the first recipe I ever created. I had an Easy Bake Oven when I was six, but all of the recipes prepared in it were done from pre-portioned mixes. I would imagine that Cocktail Sauce is the first, working-without-a-net recipe I ever created.
Cocktail Sauce is a mainstay in Southern seafood restaurants. Mine was certainly not an original recipe, but how many are? Most recipes today are just variations on the same theme.
The exact make-up of Cocktail Sauce is debatable down South. Most people would scoff at my recipe because it doesn’t contain hot sauce. I have nothing against hot sauce, I actually bottle and sell it. I just like to get my cocktail sauce “heat” from horseradish, and a lot of it.
New Orleans horseradish is stronger than most. I am not sure what type or variety they use down there, but half the normal amount of New Orleans horseradish will be enough to open up the sinuses of even the toughest palate.
Fried shrimp was a special occasion meal for me when I was a kid. It was usually someone’s birthday or we were out of town if I was eating fried shrimp. In the meatloaf-laden, stuffed pepper and TV Dinner days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, my family hardly ever “went out” to eat.
The world has changed. People dine out all of the time. It’s a good thing for restaurateurs like me, but it might be a bad thing for families. The special occasion aspect of dining out is taken away when one eats out five nights a week.
I am chief among the sinners. My family travels and dines with me all of the time. Sitting at Drago’s I began to wonder which early childhood food memories they will consider one day. A dad’s first cocktail sauce? Maybe so.
Robert’s Cocktail Sauce
1 1 /2 cups Ketchup
3 Tbl Fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 /4 cup Prepared Horseradish (more if you’re brave, less if it’s New Orleans horseradish)
1 /2 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate two hours before serving. Yield: two cups Yield: 8-10 servings