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The sauce, and the dish for which it is named, are often credited to British celebrity chef Fanny Cradock, but seafood cocktails predate her 1967 recipe by some years (for example, Constance Spry published a seafood cocktail using Dublin Bay Prawns in 1956) Seafood cocktails originated in the 19th century in the United States, usually made with oyster or shrimp, and seafood with spiced, cold sauces were a well-established part of the 20th century culinary repertoire.
While cocktail sauce is most associated with the prawn cocktail, it can be served with any shellfish.
In America it generally consists of, at a minimum, ketchup or chili sauce mixed with prepared horseradish.
Lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce are common additives, often all three.
Some restaurants use chili sauce, a spicier tomato-based sauce in place of the ketchup.
The common form of cocktail sauce in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, France, Belgium and The Netherlands, usually consists of mayonnaise mixed with a tomato sauce to the same pink colour as prawns, producing a result that could be compared to fry sauce.
It is similar to Thousand Island dressing, but the more usual British name is Marie (or Mary) Rose Sauce.
The origins of the name are unclear and it is variously credited to a 1980s dive team cook working at the site of the Tudor ship, the Mary Rose, and Fanny Cradock.
However, the term first appeared in the 1920s as a term for a garnish of shrimp, and was in use for cocktail sauce by at least 1963.
The name was linked to the colour and Escoffier uses it to describe a pink iced pudding.
It was so ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s that is has since become something of a joke in Britain, along with its most commonly associated dish, the prawn cocktail.