|Shrimp Cocktail still served at the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino|
Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger had been writing individually until they got together to write the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, hard-boiled tales based in Hollywood in 1955. Learn more about them at their individual websites.
Desert Ice is the third hard-boiled Skylar Drake Murder Mystery. A murder in L.A. takes Drake to Las Vegas in search of answers. Since much of mid-1950s Las Vegas was demolished and reclaimed for more modern building, it was obvious we needed to go there to research Sin City ourselves.
At that time, the mob was alive and well. The locals welcomed the gangsters to the open city. This allowed them to enter the city and do what they did best, operate gambling and prostitution establishments— legally. They may have been criminals in other parts of the country but the minute they set foot in Nevada, they became legitimate and very successful businessmen.
While there, we had the opportunity to interview several professors at UNLV as well as researchers of old Las Vegas. Among the people we spoke to who lived in Las Vegas during the 1950s were the daughter of a mobster and a dancer. The subjects that kept cropping up during our interviews were the Mob and (believe it not) Shrimp Cocktail.
We learned that Shrimp Cocktail was introduced to Las Vegas by Italo Ghelfi, a restaurant/bar owner from San Francisco. He and his partners were lured to Las Vegas to buy the Western Hotel then owned by Emilio "Gomba" Giorgetti. Giorgetti controlled illegal slot operations, liquor sales and a number of powerful politicians. When this reputed mob boss was subpoenaed to appear before the Kefauver Committee on organized crime, he decided to leave town—fast. Giorgetti sold the hotel to the partnership.
Two years later the Western was sold, and the partnership opened the Golden Gate Casino on the main floor of the Sal Sagev Hotel and Casino (Las Vegas spelled backwards). To attract gamblers he introduced and sold the "Original Shrimp Cocktail” for fifty cents. It was small salad shrimp with cocktail sauce served in a tulip glass. Tourists and locals couldn't get enough of it. Successful? Ghelfi managed the casino for forty years.
Keep in mind Ghelfi not only displaced a mobster from Las Vegas, he also began the shrimp cocktail tradition that still thrives.
With this in mind, we had to include it in our story. Skylar Drake, along with an FBI agent and three female Pinkerton detectives, enjoy the appetizer as the mystery begins to intensify in Las Vegas. The Pinkerton detectives are from other parts of the country, so the idea of shrimp in a tulip glass with delicious sauce does tend to preoccupy them when off duty— so to speak.
Las Vegas made Shrimp Cocktail popular in the western states in the 1950s. People who visited Sin City would return home wanting the tasty shrimp.
for the shrimp:
8 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 medium lemon, thinly sliced
3 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds (21/25-count) shrimp, peeled except for the tails and deveined
for the cocktail sauce:
1-1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
Combine all the ingredients for the shrimp except the shrimp in a 4-quart pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
Add the shrimp, stir, and remove the pan from the heat. Cover with a tight fitting lid and let sit until the shrimp are opaque and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with paper towels and set it aside.
Drain the shrimp in a strainer and transfer them to the baking sheet, arranging in a single layer. Be sure to remove and discard any solids from the poaching liquid that have stuck to the shrimp (discard the contents in the strainer as well). Let sit until cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the shrimp to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Meanwhile, make the cocktail sauce:
Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Taste and season with more pepper as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve. Serve the shrimp with the sauce for dipping.
In 1955, a missing Marine and stolen diamonds lead Private Eye Skylar Drake to Sin City, where the women are beautiful and almost everything is legal—except murder.
The FBI and a Las Vegas crime boss force him to choose between the right and wrong side of the law. All the while, government secrets, sordid lies and trickery block his efforts to solve the case.
Common sense tells him to go back to L.A. but his gut tells him to find his fellow Marine.