Saturday, May 02, 2009

WTSIM Avocado and Prawn Cocktail

Jeanne has asked us to cast our minds back to the Seventies for this month’s WTSIM – the theme is retro classics, things that we would now blush to present at a dinner party but which were the epitome of cool way back then.

My childhood memories of food are mostly of traditional home-cooked fare, ageless dishes like shepherds pie and Sunday roasts, and then the unchanging school-food themes of stews and pies, sausages and mashed potatoes, none of which were the height of food fashion even in the Seventies. But I do remember going out as a family for meals as a special treat at half-term or to start off the holidays. In our early teens the Berni Inn was our favourite venue, a chain of steak houses that served steak and chips in all its permutations, followed by ice cream with chocolate sauce and, as a hugely daring end to the meal, one of those Irish coffees where the cream floats in a thick layer on top leaving you to create swirls and patterns as you stir it in.

Very occasionally though we would dress up and be taken to a more sophisticated, grown-up restaurant called The Pheasant, usually with grandparents or to celebrate a momentous birthday. There we would order from big menus in the lounge by a log fire and only be shown to our table as the starters were about to be served. The main courses have faded from my memory, but I do remember my favourite starter, which I thought was incredibly sophisticated – half an avocado filled with a prawn cocktail heaped into the hollow left by the stone. Avocados were still a bit of a luxury then, and getting them to ripen, as now, was a challenge, so scooping out the succulent smooth flesh with a spoon with the addition of the prawns and a dash of sauce was the ultimate in indulgence.

I don’t think I have had a prawn cocktail since the Seventies and certainly couldn’t remember what went into the sauce, so I Googled it and found Delia’s recipe (and she should know the authentic Seventies style, as that was the era when she was really cool too!). My memories of the prawns in prawn cocktail back then, reveal them to be small in size, so probably not actually prawns at all but what are sold here as shrimps. And though Delia suggests organic ketchup and home-made mayonnaise, I am sure the Seventies wasn’t big on those either, so I went for good old Heinz tomato ketchup (bought specially for this as I am mean and never brought my kids up to eat it, though two of them acquired a taste for it regardless!) and bought mayonnaise. She also says to use lime juice but I don’t think we could get limes back then, so have used lemons for the sake of authenticity (also because I can’t get limes in my local town either!)

One thing I was sure I wouldn’t have a problem with was getting good ripe avos, as the avocado season has started here now and I bought two specially last week for this. But they stayed stubbornly hard and I had to resort to putting them in a bag with a banana in a belated attempt to ripen and soften them sufficiently to be eaten with a spoon. The flesh should be velvety and seductive, not hacked out in solid lumps sending prawns flying in every direction.

I did very little measuring for this, just mixing up the sauce ingredients to taste, though I overdid the Tabasco to start and had to increase the quantities of everything else.

Avocado Prawn Cocktail

2 ripe avocados
a couple of handfuls of peeled small prawns or shrimps
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 drops Tabasco sauce
squeeze of lemon juice

Mix up the sauce to taste. Cut avocados in half and remove the stone. Put a dollop of sauce in the hollow of each avo, fill with defrosted prawns and top with either a squeeze of lemon juice or more sauce depending on how much sauce you like. Sprinkle some shredded parsley on top for contrast. Eat with a spoon and add more sauce and prawns if you like.

The dog has to be part of the photo shoot

The kids were unimpressed by my culinary retrospective and fled down the hill to lunch at their aunt’s, but my husband gamely sampled his. We were both rather underwhelmed however – it didn’t live up to my fond recollections – probably because I don’t really like cocktail sauce much! The frozen shrimps were fairly flavourless and need the clout of a strong sauce, but next time I would forget tradition and go with a strong balsamic vinaigrette and good sea salt.

The other reason that this dish has lost its glamour for me, besides the fact that I seem to have a more sophisticated palate, is that in South Africa the avocado has never been an exotic rarefied ingredient. My husband remembers having avocado breakfasts as a child in the Sixties and Seventies, when they would each fill half and avocado with a selection of toppings, ranging from crispy bacon, to cream cheese or plain vinaigrette and guzzle however many they could manage, as in winter here avocados are plentiful and cheap. All you really need with a perfectly ripe avocado is some good olive oil, a dash of lemon juice and some sea salt for an exquisite lunch or starter. Who needs prawns and cocktail sauce when it tastes so good alone?!

We did enjoy the novelty though and there is an intrigued candidate for finishing off the de-frosted shrimps!

Fluff is into Seventies haute cuisine


  1. Now I am longing to have prawns in a scooped-out avocado!

    My father grew and developed avocados, and when I was growing up, we always had a lot more of them around than we needed. He always insisted that the best way to ripen them was by wrapping them in layers of paper or towels. This apparently mimics the natural ripening process (since avocados often fall from the tree and ripen on the ground, among leaves).

    We HATED avocados when we were kids, though we had a constant supply. Now that I no longer have access to them, I love them. Sad, isn't it?

  2. i nearly made prawn salad as well - great minds think alike! but then i had this loverly delivery of fillet steak and... no, i won't give that away ;-)

  3. You solved a mystery for me--exactly what is in that sauce for prawn cocktail. Here in the US, prawns are usually served with a semi-spicey tomato-based sauce. When I lived in the UK and ordered what I thought was the same dish, the prawns were mixed with something mayo-based, and although a nice flavor, I really had no idea what is in it. Thanks! The app sounds fabulous.

  4. Mmmm, I would like some of that. I'll have to see if I can find any avocados...

  5. So that is what the filling is!! I had those in S.A. at a birthday party. When I came home I figured it was shrimp so that is how we make it. Thank you for posting that recipe.

  6. Are yo sure we aren't related in some way?? We also had a special family restaurant where we went to celebrate all momentous occasions, plus Christmas eve. The ladies all received a carnation at the door, there was a tinkly piano, a charming Italian owner and an explosion of 70s classics on the menu :)

    I came within an inch of making this very same dish (known to me as avocado Ritz) for this event! I've always liked it and its cheap alternative that I used to serve quite a lot when I first moved out of home, avocado tuna. Here in the UK though, getting an avocado that's perfectly ripe is a near-impossibility - they go from rock hard to rotten overnight :( Lucky you in the land of the avo!

    Love the marauding feline on the kitchen counter!

    (and do I detect Spar mayo lurking in the background there?? ;-))

  7. I remember this dish, too! I love the pet-friendly photos!!

    I'm sorry your go at it was disappointing. It sure looks yummy though, and I remember how tasty those cocktails were. If you are looking to mix it up, my dad made a version with salsa instead of cocktail sauce and that was delish, as well.

    I used to lust after a photo of the French version of avocado hors d'houvres as a child. It was nothing more that an avocado with chestnut oil floating in the hollowed scoop, but it looked so luscious with the nutty golden brown glistening oil against the creamy avocado flesh. Of course, the fact that we could not obtain chestnut oil made it all the more exotic to me.

    Thanks for the fun trip down memory lane!


    ~ Paula

  8. Fluff is gorgeous. Way more gorgeous than Fluffy the anaconda we have living next door.

  9. I remember my mother eating truck loads of avocados in the 1960's! I wasn't that fond of them, but love prawns. Even the color of them was a huge fad in the 60's and 70's here. We had "avocado green" appliances like coffeemakers, ovens, toasters, even refrigerators!

  10. Thank you! My 14 year old daughter heard of this dish from her mentor and I decided to make it for her tonight as a surprise but do you think I could find a recipe for this retro dish?
    As it turns out it's just the cocktail sauce we always make for prawn cocktails but I had fun finding your site anyway.
    Great photos.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!