Beer and food matching: prawn cocktail

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If you're looking for the classic pub starter, look no further than a prawn cocktail. Fresh prawns in a marie rose sauce, garnished with crispy...

If you're looking for the classic pub starter, look no further than a prawn cocktail. Fresh prawns in a marie rose sauce, garnished with crispy lettuce and a few Hovis soldiers - what could be better?

Plenty, if our panel is anything to go by. A number of them moved the goalposts considerably in their efforts to overcome the dodgy 1970s associations of the iconic seafood starter. So, with a word of caution that we expect them to stick more closely to the brief in future, let's see what they came up with.

Paul Drye, catering development manager, St Austell Brewery​: Before recommending some beers, let's sort the food out first. The prawn cocktail has had a bit of a hard time in recent years, criticised by food writers and shunned by chefs the length and breadth of the country - it's certainly not the hippest of dishes. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with a prawn cocktail that a culinary makeover wouldn't put right. Bin the overpowering marie rose sauce in favour of some zesty lemon olive oil, replace the uninspiring iceberg with oak leaf, baby spinach and rocket, use the juiciest fattest prawns you can lay your hands on, and ditch the pre-sliced bread in favour of something warm, crusty and characterful. You now can taste and appreciate all of the ingredients... job done! Wheat beers work very well with prawns and St Austell's Clouded Yellow does the job superbly. With citrus overtones and delicate flavours of coriander and vanilla this is great with all manner of seafood. A Belgian wheat beer well worth seeking out is Blanche de Namur with its hazy lemon honey colour, fresh citrus and coriander flavours, and a malty and spicier middle. Finally, why not try Schneider Weisse Original with clove, nutmeg and apple aromas and a clean, delicate bitterness - this German hefeweizen is a surprisingly good match (considering my description sounds a little like Grandma's apple pie) but trust me, it works.

Richard Fox, food write​r: There's nothing more contemporary than retro, if you'll pardon the oxymoron, and prawn cocktail is about as Berni Inn, 1970s kitsch as you can possibly get. However, while the name should quite rightly stay the same, the contents should not. A little pile of frozen sealife atop a pile of shredded iceberg drenched in some kind of day-glow glutinous dressing may well have been considered haute cuisine back then, but not any more. And just to add insult to injury, you'd probably have been washing it down with a paris goblet of luke warm pissporter, sorry piesporter. So, bring on the Scottish langoustine, or Dublin Bay prawn - whatever you want to call it; arrange generously on a finely chopped mix of cucumber, avocado, finely chopped shallots and fresh dill; go sparingly with the home-made marie rose, and serve with a chilled glass of zesty wheat beer. Clouded Yellow, the unfiltered wheat beer from the St Austell Brewery, is outstanding if you can get it, however, Hoegaarden will do the job more than admirably. Just make sure you save the lemon garnish for the food rather than the beer - nothing kills a head quite like a quick blast of citrus. With any luck you'll spend the entire night dreaming of Charlie's Angels or Starsky and Hutch - whichever rocks your boat.

John Keeling, Fuller's head brewer​: Organic Honey Dew is always good with fish, and it cuts well through creamy sauces. Personally, I'm not a prawn cocktail person, but my brewing team reliably inform me that my deduction is correct and Honey Dew would be a good accompaniment. Porters are normally good with shellfish, but you'd be better leaving off the marie rose sauce if you wanted a coffee hit!

Rupert Ponsonby, R&R teamwork​: The prawn cocktail combo calls for a soft, gently sweet brew to highlight the prawn, but with enough body to withstand the cocktail's sweet/sour "cream". For pubs with access to speciality beers, I dream of an agricultural "saison" ale, brewed in the winter months in French-speaking southern Belgium, normally to about six per cent ABV. These blousy, sensuous charmers normally use pale malts to keep the beer light, but with adding botanicals or spices for a sweet, spicy body and tart finish. Moving up a notch, a strong Belgian golden ale at six to nine per cent ABV would hit the spot, beers like the crisp lemon-coloured Duvel, Chimay White or the wonderfully herbal Orval. These merge cream with flavours such as ripe pear, summer flowers and clove, which would complement the food. For those who think that shellfish is made for darker beers, a sweeter stout such as Murphy's would be great, or even Mackeson or Manns. But my personal fave would have to be a wheat beer, whether it's a Belgian "witbier" leaping with fresh acidity and citric flavours, auch as Hoegaarden, or a fatter German weissbier, such as Schneider, trumpeting ripe bananas, Bavarian bubblegum and cloves. Bliss.

Ben Bartlett, catering development manager, Union Pub Company​: I don't believe there is a beer to match the appetizer prawn cocktail, though Fish King (4.3 per cent) would go with prawn cocktail flavour crisps. This new beer was launched last summer by the Jennings' Cockermouth brewery and is one of its most popular seasonal beers. This light coloured, easy-drinking ale is brewed with a new variety of hops, bodicea, giving the ale its distinctive characteristics. It is an extremely refreshing drink which leaves you wanting more. A fantastic cocktail sauce is made with ketchup, mayonnaise, horseradish, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and a dash of gin. But the gin is the winner in this recipe and would not go with a beer.

Ben 'Surf n Turf' McFarland, beer writer​: I'm afraid I'm going to cheat a little here, as there's a prawn-inspired beer and food match-up that is really rather wonderful and one that you should know about. Firstly, dispense with the traditional prawn cocktail idea and replace it with fresh unpeeled prawns soaked in garlic butter. Posh, I know, but worth it. There are many beers that could complement the little orange blighters such as crisp and raspy pilsners from Germany or even the cool, dry and minimalist lagers from the Far East, for example. But I've only got tastebuds for Duvel when it comes to prawns with beer. This golden abbey beer - with its stunning clove and ripe pear flavours - is unbeatable, believe me. Packing a punch of 8.5 per cent, Duvel boasts the strength to cut through the butter yet the subtlety to help release the fresh flavours of the prawns. Lovely.

Michael Tuckwood, Craft Guild of Chefs member and patron chef at the Stag in Aylesbury​: Alongside a prawn cocktail I would suggest serving Badger Golden Champion Ale, a premium strong ale with a light fruity flavour that complements the strong flavour of the dish. I tried it recently with a prawn cocktail and found it very pleasant and tangy, and the ale flavour came through really well. I would recommend serving it cold, shared between a table of four. I would also recommend Young's Waggle Dance, as again it is strong and cuts through the flavours of the fish and marie rose sauce. Waggle Dance is brewed with a touch of honey giving it a summery taste and a honey aroma, which complements the prawns. Prawn cocktail is quite a heavy starter and full of rich flavours from the mayonnaise and tomatoes in the sauce, but either of these beers will go well with the dish as they are strong enough to allow customers to taste the beer when eating the starter.

Aloha! Next month, the panel will be suggesting matches for gammon - with or without a pineapple ring. If you've got a dish on your pub menu you'd like beer recommendations for, please email

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