Live spot prawns off the dock are a real treat…sweet, rich, delicious…and, truth be told, a real pain in the tush to peel raw. The connective tissue that attaches the flesh to the shell is too strong for anyone to make a neat job of it — and the last thing you want to do is mangle this treasure from the sea — the culinary gods would be displeased.
Instead, you’re better off to cook them shell on. Some cooks twist the heads off before cooking. I’ve seen more than a few locals take their newly purchased prawns over to the edge of the dock to give the heads back to the water before leaving with a bag of no-hassle tails.
If you delay the beheading until you get home, then you can keep the heads to make a velvety bisque. Just know that their beady eyes continue to scan the room for quite some time after the separation. I only mention it because it can be disconcerting to look down into the sink and have a couple of dozen eyes seemingly look back. The trained cook in me knows that they are dead…that the movement is only reflex…the mostly buried squeamish girl in me still gets freaked out — if only for a second.
As you can see from the pic, I prefer to cook and present them to the table whole — drama queen that I am. Until today, that meant steamed in booze or blanched in boiling salted water until just pink. But as the spot prawn season is set to close for another year, I decided to go all out and flash cook them in boiling oil. A real food adventure!
The adventure began just before 5pm on Saturday, when the prawn boat arrived at Port Browning on North Pender. This weekend`s catch came from Boundary Pass, a strait that runs between the US/Canada border, just off the southern tips of South Pender and Saturna Islands. You can’t get much more local than that.
B.C.’s spot prawn fishery is world-renowned for producing some of the tastiest shellfish on the planet, but also for being a model for sustainability. Here are some of the reasons BC spot prawns are on SeaChoice.org‘s Best Choice List:
- The fishery is managed by size and trap limits, and mid-season assessments of breeding stock strength.
- The season is short, typically running from the beginning of May through mid-June.
- All coldwater shrimp are fast-growing, short-lived, and have a high reproductive capacity, making these species less vulnerable to fishing pressure.
- Spot prawn fishermen along the B.C. coast use baited traps on long lines attached to buoys. By-catch is relatively low. This gear type is also associated with a relatively low amount of habitat damage.
Given the season will most likely end this weekend or next, I also took the opportunity to stock up on some Frozen-At-Sea (FAS) prawns. See that bag of containers in my hand in the picture below? Each one of those contains about 27 headless prawns that were killed and frozen in sea water immediately after harvest. It’s the only way to go if you prefer peeled prawns on your plate — or in your sushi — the water between the shell and the flesh expands when frozen, making the prawns easy to peel. FAS is also the only way to keep the spot prawns on your plate long after the short season has closed for another year.
If you have concerns about the quality of “frozen fish,” you should know that the biggest and best of the spot prawns harvested off our shores are sold in FAS form to Japan for sushi. And if there’s a culture that can be described as pre-occupied with the freshness and quality of seafood, it’s the Japanese. I feel comfortable following their lead.
As for flash-frying the live prawns we bought that night, it’s a very tasty method of preparation. After cooking the prawns for no more than 30 seconds, I quickly crusted them in a pan of chili and spice spiked kosher salt. As we shelled the meat, the oil and salt stuck to our hands, making for a succulent, finger-licking-good experience that was in no way greasy. The oil was so hot the prawns cooked immediately, before they had a chance to become saturated with oil.
The jicama slaw is a delicious foil for the prawns’ rich flavour. The jicama is a little sweet, the cucumber is cool and the dressing is makes the whole thing come alive with fresh mint and sharp lime.
Clean up after deep frying is never pretty, even after I moved everything outside onto my newspaper-covered Black & Decker Workmate, but it feels like a somewhat trivial complaint to foist on what really was a spectacular meal — perfect for a summer’s evening on the deck with guests.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
: Flash-Fried Spot Prawns with Jicama Slaw (Serves 4)
: A quick dip in hot oil leaves these prawns tender and succulent and the refreshing, minty slaw deliciously balances the prawns’ rich flavour.
- Jicama – ½ lb (225 g)
- Carrot – 1 medium
- English Cucumber – ½ medium
- Red Onion – ½ medium
- Fresh Lime Juice – ¼ cup
- Olive Oil – ¼ cup
- Sugar – 1 tsp
- Fresh Mint – 8 large leaves
- Oil for frying (Peanut or Sunflower)
- Spot Prawns, live – 2 lbs (900 g)
- Kosher Salt – ½ Cup
- Ground Fennel – 1 tsp
- Chili Flakes – ½ tsp
- Mayonnaise – ¾ Cup
- Lime Zest – from 1 whole lime
- Paprika (smoked or sweet) – 1 tsp
- Peel the jicama and carrot. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a small spoon. Shred all three vegetables on a mandolin equipped with a medium sized shredder blade. (See notes below.)
- Peel and thinly slice the onion. Make a neat stack with the mint leaves, then roll into a tight cylinder and thinly slice crosswise. Toss sliced onion and mint chiffonade with the shredded vegetables in a large bowl.
- Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil and sugar. Season with s+p, then pour over the vegetables, toss well, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Heat 3” of oil in a pot with deep sides to 400° F. Meanwhile, mix the salt, ground fennel and chili flakes on a dinner plate. Combine the mayonnaise, lime zest and smoked paprika in a small bowl and refrigerate.
- When the oil is hot, drop 3-4 prawns into the oil head first and fry until bright pink, about 20-30 seconds. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the prawns from the oil, draining the excess oil back into the pot. Drop the prawns into the salt, toss to coat then set on a plate while you fry the remaining prawns.
- To serve, mound the jicama slaw on a serving platter, surround with the prawns and serve, passing the mayonnaise for dipping.
- Use a grater to shred the jicama and carrot if you don’t have a mandolin. Julienne the cucumber by hand.
- If you are making the slaw ahead of time, keep the mint leaves whole until just before serving to prevent it from turning black in the salad.
- Remove the zest from the lime before juicing it.
- Ensure the oil returns to 400° F before frying the next batch.
- I set up a deep-fry station for the prawns outside on our deck to prevent whole house smelling of, for lack of a better description, fishy oil.
- Unless you plan to fry another batch of prawns within the week (in which case you can strain and refrigerate the cooled oil), discard the deep fry oil.
- If deep frying live prawns isn’t your style, you can always blanch them in plenty of boiling, salted water until they are just pink (about 1 minute). Drain, shake off the extra water and dredge in the salt as described.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Diet type: Pescatarian
Number of servings (yield): 4
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