17 July, 2011

Sau-Sea Shrimp Cocktails & Tiny shrimp

Do you remember Sau-Sea shrimp cocktail?  When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite treats;  my mother would buy them for semi-special occasions.

Sau-Sea cocktails consisted of tiny little shrimp, swimming in a bland, almost ketchupy, cocktail sauce and packed in small fluted juice glass. Each glass was sealed with a litho'd tin lid, as shown in the photo, and the glasses were reusable.  Go to a church rummage sale and you'll find a testament to Sau-Sea's onetime popularity - you'll almost always find a dozen or more of those heavy little glasses for sale (often for about a dime each.)  Up until the mid-eighties, when she finally sold off her own hoard in a tag sale, I bet you could tell how many times our family had eaten Sau-Sea shrimp cocktails by the number of old Sau-Sea tumblers lurking in my mother's kitchen.

When Sau-Sea first started business in the late 1940's, shrimp was a luxury food that most people almost never ate outside of a restaurant.  These days, of course, you can get really good fresh or freshly-frozen shrimp at just about any supermarket, and they're big enough to actually see with the naked eye.  Even so, sometimes I get nostalgic for Sau-Sea Shrimp Cocktail. It doesn't seem to be as ubiquitous as it once was, so I often try to make my own version.

Big Y sells small bags of what they call "salad shrimp." Like most of what Big Y sells, they're hideously overpriced - except for a few times a year when the store jacks the price up a bit and then pretends to do everyone a favor by selling it as a "Buy One, Get Two Free!" special. That's when I'll buy three bags and make my own bastardized Sau-Sea imitations.

Thanks for selling me that
bag of krill, Big Y.
I make up some cocktail sauce - not the boring Sau-Sea cocktail sauce of my sprogdom, but my own kickass version - and pack the salad shrimp into juice glasses. It's never the same.  Those salad shrimp are completely nasty. They're not tender and meaty like shrimp should be, they're soggy and wet and feel like shrimp-shaped cut-outs from a kitchen sponge when you chew them. And even though they're about as tiny as they can be and not qualify as Sea Monkeys, size doesn't really have anything to do with their crappiness - that's purely the fault of whatever cutrate company Big Y deals with.  And, of course, it's my own damn fault for buying them again. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but  no - there I am,  back at the frozen food counter, buying shitty little fingernail-clipping-sized shrimp from Pig Y. Whatever else you may think of Sau-Sea, back in the day the shrimp might have been small as hell, but they were always pretty decent and they have my respect in that regard.  Also, those glasses. Until I was like 14 years old and started chugging it right from the carton, I never had orange juice at home unless it was served in one of those repurposed Sau-Sea glasses.

I hardly ever find Sau-Sea shrimp cocktails in the store anymore.  When I do, I rarely buy them. They're more expensive than when I was a kid, when the Waldbaum's Food Mart in town sold them for something like $1.25 for three little jars, and those little tiny shrimp just don't seem to be such a good deal as they used to.  My perceptions of "shrimp cocktail" have changed since I was 7, I guess.  And the Sau-Sea company has changed, too.  In 1993 they  decided to become a marketing company rather than a manufacturer.  They stopped processing their own shrimp in Yonkers NY, released the 70 employees who had processed 10 tons of shrimp per day, and handed over production to a company in Virginia.

Sau-Sea newspaper advertisement, c. 1960


Marc said...

Absolutely used to love those! Brought back a ton of memories. Even as a little kid though, I remember adding Tabasco Sauce or when I was feeling really brave, some horseradish. Oh, and your right: both orange and V8 juice in those glasses was mandatory. Wish I still had a set!

Michael said...

Caveat emptor - you can squeeze the little protein nuggets dry and stir-fry them to be put in cheap-restaurant-style fried rice, or you can try to make mousse out of them.
Or stew them in butter with more garlic than you thought possible and serve them as poor unfortunate's tapas.

Anonymous said...

I also keep getting lured into those tiny little Big Y shrimp bags. I keep hoping they'll get better, but I feel like they just get worse. I usually end up throwing them away.

Mary Bennett said...

MMmmmmm! I remember those. I think I had them ....once, though our cupboard had a few of those glasses

TokenBabe said...

My problem is that I live in Niagara Falls Ontario and I would give anything to buy some for my elderly mom who STILL talks about how yummy she thought they were. Anyone willing to help me acquire some of these "blasts from the past"?

Dennis said...

Thanks for the memories...I think the secret to decent shrimp regardless of size is buy the raw frozen shrimp and cook (boil)them till they just turn pink...then immediately drop in cold water.

Dougie T. King said...

Yes ! I remember Sau-Sea shrimp cocktails very well as a child in the 1960's. They were tasty, convenient and relatively cheap. Of course, some will complain that they were no good, the shrimp too small and the sauce to bland. However, no body ever said they were supposed to compete with a fresh restaurant one with jumbo shrimp, did they ? They were sold frozen solid and had to thaw in the refrigerator before consuming. The package contained 3 glasses, that were reusable juice glasses. They were tangy and flavorful and everyone in the family loved them as a snack of before dinner appetizer. As I recall, the package of three costed about $ 1.09 around 1966-67. Another favorite lost in time from that era was Sara Lee's frosted cakes (also frozen) in a tin foil pan. They came in chocolate, banana and orange varieties and costed about .89 cents in the late 60's.