Recipe Box: Wild BC Spot Prawns

Spot Prawns and Garlic

I first discovered wild BC spot prawns a couple of years ago when I noticed them popping up on restaurant menus around town.

“Spot prawns? What are spot prawns?” I asked my friends. They didn’t know either. I ordered them, tasted them, fell in love with them …

With a little research, I discovered that the wild BC spot prawn is the largest of seven species of commercially available BC shrimp. What’s unique about them is their distinctive white spots and naturally bright orange colour.

With a little more research, I learned that the spot prawn fishery is one of BC’s most sustainable fisheries. It’s limited to trap gear only, and the prawns are hand sorted upon removal from the ocean. Prawns too small for consumption are thrown back. About 90 percent of the commercial catch is shipped to Japan and the remainder is sold locally. But here’s the kicker: the season is short ― only six weeks from mid-May to June. In other words: get them while you can. (And if you don’t live in BC or Japan, well, too bad for you.)

Last year, I got up the courage to cook spot prawns myself. I had house guests ― my brother and his family were visiting from land-locked Alberta ― and when they told me they wanted to spend the day playing tourist at Granville Island, I decided to show off. I told them, casual like (as if I did it all the time), that I would pick up some spot prawns at the market for our dinner.

I was a bit taken aback when the fishmonger scooped a handful of live spot prawns from a water tank. “I didn’t know they were sold live,” I whispered to my brother, my bravado quickly disappearing. Gamely, I accepted the plastic bag of prawns wrapped in newspaper. I told the fishmonger I was planning to sauté them with garlic in butter.

“Excellent,” he said. “That’s the best way to prepare them.”

“But … do I have to … you know … kill them first?” I asked gingerly.

“Nope,” he said. “By the time you get them home, they’ll be dead.” Phew. I’m no vegetarian, but I draw the line at killing my own food.

He was right. When I unwrapped my package a few hours later, the shrimp were still bright orange, but most definitely in a non-living state. I cooked them up, and we devoured those garlicky spot prawns in record time. Their taste reminded me of lobster, and my only regret was that I didn’t buy more.

Prawns in the Pan

This year, I did buy more, and I cooked them the same way, relishing them as much as the first time. The very next evening, I went to my sister’s and her husband’s for a barbecue dinner, and was pleased to find out that grilled spot prawns were on the menu. But I was stunned when I saw the plate of prawns she had prepared for grilling.

“Where are the heads!?” I asked.

My sister looked at me, puzzled. “You have to take them off,” she insisted.

Lively debate ensues: do you eat spot prawns with the heads on or off? (And, while we’re at it, do you need to devein them?)

Back to Google. It turns out that deveining spot prawns is a matter of personal preference. (I have yet to taste the grittiness some claim is common if you don’t devein.) But what is critical is that you remove the heads immediately if you aren’t intending to cook the prawns the same day, because they release an enzyme after death that makes the tail meat turn mushy.

Here is the recipe I like to use (with heads on), but know that if you eat yours with heads off, they will be just as tasty.

Enjoy!

Wild BC Spot Prawns

1 pound whole spot prawns
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a large frying pan on medium high heat.
2. Add minced garlic and parsley and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add prawns and white wine, tossing to coat with the butter and parsley, then season with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and cook 4 to 5 minutes, no longer.

Serve with slices of crusty baguette and a chilled buttery chardonnay.

Prawns and Chardonnay

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