The battle is joined!
Prawn cocktail is the British equivalent of our own shrimp cocktail. But while our recipe dates to the early 20th century (it appeared as early as 1909 in a New Orleans cookbook as “Chevrettes a la Sauce Tomate,”calling for two tablespoons of ketchup), the English version didn’t appear until the 1970s, and became inexorably associated with that decade.
Another distinguishing feature is that, while the American recipe is mainly ketchup and horseradish, the English deploys a sauce known as Marie Rose. Resembling Russian dressing, this mixture of ketchup and mayo is sometimes goosed up with lemon juice, or even a little tabasco sauce.
Let us note at the outset that the English are generally much wilder in their crisp preference than the Americans, inventing all sorts of strange flavorings – including Worcestershire, mustard, kebab, Texas paprika, cheese and onion, lamb and mint, smoky bacon, anchovy, Cajun squirrel, and roast chicken – that probably couldn’t gain a foothold here.
It seems natural, then, the potato chip manufacturers in England would summon Marie Rose when casting about for new flavors. In the U.K., of course, potato chips are known as “crisps,” while our own French fries are called “chips.” Confused?
Walkers on the left, Skips on the right
Our battle this week involves two types of prawn cocktail crisps. One is manufactured by Walkers and the other by Skips. The first are conventional potato chips, while the second are more like Pringle’s, with a spongy, open texture. Neither contains any actual prawn products, but both use a prawn seasoning that lists dried onion, dried tomato, salt, molasses, citric acid, and unspecified “artificial flavourings.”
The Walkers crisps are rather small in size, not particularly salty, and with a sweet flavor that is at the forefront. The color verges on the orange, and the pile of chips flings off the odor of paprika. There is nothing detectably fishy about them. Even though it is a damp day, the chips remain relatively crisp.
The Skips chips have a smilar flavor, but the sweetness and vinegary snap is deferred, so that you must masticate them a few chews before the flavor is revealed. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, the chips are hygroscopic, so that they quickly absorb moisture when liberated from their metallic bag on a damp day. Sunflower oil accounts for 33% of the weight of the chips, which are made with tapioca starch rather than potatoes. Milk is another surprise component.
Turn page for the thrilling conclusion to the contest.
The Skips chips are intended to be marginally more healthy than the Walkers, which would be good if they tasted on par. Unfortunately, they don’t, and the spongy texture is a turn-off, especially if you’re looking for a background note of potato. The Skips promise of “fizzy melty snacks” didn’t do much for this taster.
The Winner: Walkers Prawn Cocktail Crisps