Although it is an eternal classic, I have rarely had a prawn cocktail in my life. This may partly be due to the fact that the country I grew up in has no direct access to the sea and therefore the offering of seafood and salt water fish is somewhat limited - which also makes it the most expensive foodstuff you can buy. There is only one occasion where I remember eating one - and not particularly liking it, either... in 1992 when we took our then "host brother" from Sydney to visit the Czech Republic. Even though my hometown is a mere 30 km away from the Czech border, we didn't go there very often - all the negative propaganda and prejudices about our neighbours (like the one where buses full of them come into Austria to raid the shops and others of a similar nature) did not make it very tempting for us to visit. It is a five-hour drive to Prague on very bad roads, which is why I have never made it that far. The furthest we ever ventured was actually on that day, when we visited Krumlov and Budejovice.
When we arrived, we were starving. Not an ideal situation, as hunger tends to be a bad advisor when it comes to choosing a restaurant... but most of the places we tried were pretty deterring anyway, leaving the "posh" choice in the castle as the last resort, over-priced to an extent that no locals could afford to eat there.
We ended up sitting on the terrace (although it was freezing cold) and when presented with the menu really weren't sure about what to order. My husband will happily chip in here and testify that I have a history of making bad choices in such circumstances - no real-life example given here, but something like ordering bœuf bourgignon in a seafood restaurant or the tuna sashimi at a traditional pub in the country-side. It's not that I don't know better, but when I have a craving or even just as much as fancy something at a particular moment in time, the menu has to work exceptionally hard to convince me to eat something else.
That day in Krumlov I chose a prawn cocktail, against my better instinct. Even at age 21 I should have known that the only place pretending to offer "international" cuisine at mind-blowing prices could still not get over the fact that they are more than 1000 km away from the nearest port - and in the dark years of the iron curtain that would also have meant that a Czech chef, no matter how talented, cannot possibly have had enough encounters with fresh seafood to be able to cook it to perfection. Was my pregnancy to blame?
The food ended up being as bad a was to be expected and I did not even finish my plate even though I was very hungry and my Dad very angry at me for ordering the most expensive item on the menu and then barely touching it.
Despite this negative connotation, I chose to make prawn cocktail puffs for our New Year's party this year. I got my Dad to prepare the choux pastry (it is usually my mother who reigns in the kitchen, but Dad is responsible for roast pork, anything fishy and... choux pastry puffs) and just whipped up the prawn cocktail. Even though I bought the prawns pre-cooked for the first time in ages, it tasted great - AND was super easy to make. It certainly tasted a gazillon times better than that ominous day in Bohemia...
Prawn cocktail choux puffs*
25 g butter
60 ml water
¼ tsp salt
40 g flour
For the prawn cocktail:
100 g prawns (cooked andn peeled)
1½ tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp ketchup
1 dash worcestershire sauce
1 dash tabasco
1 handful rocket (roughly chopped)
paprika (for decorative sprinkling)
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Heat the water in a pot, dissolve the butter and salt in it, then, removing it from the heat, gradually work in the flour with a wooden spoon. Beat until you have a smooth dough which pulls away from the pan. Incorporate the egg until well combined and shiny. Using a piping set, create small mounds of pastry on a non-stick baking tray. Make sure you place them well apart, as they will rise. Bake them for ca. 30 - 35 minutes, until golden brown.
For the prawn cocktail, combine all ingedients save the rocket and paprika in a bowl. Top the choux pastry bases with some rocket, then spoon on the prawn cocktail and sprinkly with paprika just before serving.
The choux pastry can be prepared 3 days in advance, then stored in an air-tight container.
*recipe based on Eric Treuille, "Canapés"