On a recent trip to Ireland we gorged on crab, it was everywhere, huge helpings of it. We tried it all kinds of ways, but coming back ravenous from a trip to the Hook lighthouse we stopped in a cafe in Fethard and had crab on toast moist with a blushing-pink Mary Rose sauce, and topped (yes, I was doubtful) with grated Irish cheddar.

It turned out to be the best way to eat crab of everything we tried – and I think a few prawns wouldn’t go amiss with it either. That’s not so surprising – the Mary Rose sauce is an essential component part of the darling starter of the sixties – the prawn cocktail.

And another fabulous idea involving seafood is to pour the sauce over grilled shrimp skewers – go to  Bacon Fatte blog to see how.

In any case, it got me thinking about Mary Rose sauce – where did the lyrical name come from, who invented it, and what is the best way to make it?



Hook lighthouse

Mary Rose sauce timeline


In 1545 the Tudor war ship Mary Rose was sunk in the Solent, in a battle to prevent the French landing and isolating Britain from Europe. There was a tragic loss of hundreds of lives.


In 1955  Berni Inns, a chain of steakhouses,  was founded by two brothers, Frank and Aldo Berni. The 147 restaurants became synonymous with classic sixties food. Read more about this in A Short Reverie On The Classic ‘Sixties Dinner Menu.

The 1960s

In the sixties the celebrity cook Fanny Cradock first mixed tomato ketchup with mayonnaise and building on the american oyster cocktail she invented the British version of the prawn cocktail (or, as it is known in one Cairo restaurant, ‘prawn cock and tail’). It became one of the signature dishes of the Berni Inns.

And the name…what about the name?

If you have the opportunity, a visit to the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth is really worthwhile... as is a visit to the Royal Academy's 'Thinking Through Drawing' exhibition which displays the drawings of the Mary Rose Museum's architect, Chris Wilkinson

If you have the opportunity, a visit to the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth is really worthwhile… as is a visit to the Royal Academy’s ‘Thinking Through Drawing’ exhibition which displays the drawings of the Mary Rose Museum’s architect, Chris Wilkinson

In the meantime numerous efforts were being made to salvage the Mary Rose – all failed, but in 1982 she was finally raised by divers. The divers were sustained by a Royal Navy chef who underestimated the amount of sauce he needed, resulting in a creative culinary eureka moment. All he had was mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato ketchup…. so….

Even though this happened after Mrs Craddock’s invention somehow people preferred the name and it was adopted… and at that time, in the same way that in the days of the empire everything was renamed ‘royal‘, in the eighties everything was given a french twist to make it seem more chic and elegant. So Mary Rose became Marie Rose….


Saucy Dressings’ updated version

In the States they have a very similar sauce called Thousand Island dressing, it’s often bought ready made which is pretty dire. But it IS okay to make your own Mary Rose sauce using bought mayonnaise.

In any case, after some experimentation I’ve updated Fanny Craddock’s original mayonnaise and ketchup mix. I’ve made the mayonnaise a bit lighter for modern tastes by combining it with yoghurt. And I’ve substituted the ketchup with sundried tomato paste because I reckon that, together with the added umami, that gives a bit of extra depth and flavour.


Recipe for a Mary Rose sauce – updated by Saucy Dressings:

for two to mix with the crab (and maybe prawns) and pile onto buttered toast, and top with some grated cheddar.

for two or so

  • 5 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp sundried tomato paste (or ordinary tomato paste)
  • 2 tbsp whisky (or you could use brandy)
  • 4 drops tabasco
  • dash of lemon juice
  • ¼ teasp of Patum Peperium (or a tsp of Worcester sauce, or a little grated horseradish)
  • smoked salt and paprika (use the paprika as a garnish, and/or you can sprinkle on a little furikake)

Mix all together and Bob is your uncle.