When it comes to seafood in B.C. we are spoiled. Halibut, salmon, albacore tuna, ling cod, crab, sablefish, oysters, clams and mussels are just some of the tasty choices we have and there’s much to celebrate about that.
But for many seafood lovers in this province, the party hits its peak when spot prawns are in season. This year’s fishery began in early June and according to Mike Atkins, Executive Director of Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, will likely last four to six weeks.
Although you can buy good quality frozen spot prawns year round, they really are at their best when ultra fresh. They have sweet tasting, almost buttery, succulent meat and part of their allure is that they are only available for a few weeks each year. So when you do have them you really appreciate their fine flavour and recognize what a treat they are.
Despite their name, spot prawns are the largest of the shrimp species commercially harvested off the B.C. coast. They are named after the distinctive white spots you’ll find on their tails.
You are most likely to find spot prawns for sale at stand-alone seafood stores and, occasionally, at some supermarkets, depending on availability. In some coastal locations you can also buy them direct from the fisher.
Depending on where you buy them, you’ll see fresh spot prawn tails with their heads removed, and whole live or recently live spot prawns for sale.
When buying spot prawn tails, choose bright-looking, firm tails that have few or no black spots and smell of the sea. It’s best to cook fresh spot-prawn tails the day you purchase them. But, if they are very fresh and you keep them well chilled on a bed of ice in the refrigerator, you could store them for one day or maybe two.
According to information on the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association website, bcprawns.ca, when buying live spot prawns, look for lively, almost translucent specimens. The tail should be straight in line with the head, and the head should be firm to the touch.
When going out to buy live prawns, bring a cooler with ice in it to put them in for the ride home. Once home, refrigerate them until ready to cook.
Don’t leave live or recently live prawns for more than a few hours before cooking them or removing the heads. Spot prawns have an enzyme that will permeate into the tail and causes their quality to deteriorate quickly. You’ll know the prawns have started to deteriorate if the head is showing a black colour and is soft or mushy when touched, an unappealing quality the meat will also have.
If you need to store the prawns for more than a few hours, you can remove the heads by swiftly turning and pulling them away from the tails. After the heads are removed, the tails should be thoroughly rinsed and, as noted above, kept refrigerated until ready to cook.
Spot prawns can be prepared in ways similar to other large shrimp and prawns. I used them in an aromatic, colourful and tasty Cajun-style sheet pan dinner for two.
Spot Prawn Sheet Pan Dinner for Two
Here’s a nicely spiced, peel-and-eat, Cajun-style way to prepare B.C. spot prawns that sees them cooked on a sheet pan with bits of sausage, potatoes, onions and peppers. For a filling meal, serve with cornbread or corn on the cob.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 23 to 27 minutes
Makes: two servings
8 to 10 B.C. nugget potatoes, halved
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste
14 to 16 whole live spot prawns, or spot prawn tails (see Eric’s options)
1 cured (about 5-inch long) chorizo or other tasty sausage, sliced (see Note)
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, sliced
• sea salt, to taste
• chopped fresh parsley, to taste
• lemon slices, for garnish
• remoulade sauce (optional, see recipe)
Boil potatoes until just tender, about eight to 10 minutes. Drain well, set on a large plate and cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, unless it’s non-stick.
Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, oregano, thyme, black pepper and hot pepper sauce in a large bowl. Add prawns, sausage, cooked potatoes, onions and bell peppers and use a spatula to toss and coat them with the oil mixture.
Set prawns, sausage and vegetables on the baking sheet, spreading them out so that they sit in a single layer. Drizzle any oil mixture left in the bowl over them and then sprinkle lightly with salt.
Roast the sheet pan dinner 15 to 17 minutes, or until the prawns are cooked and sizzling. Sprinkle with parsley, garnish with lemon slices and, if desired, serve with remoulade sauce.
Note: Ready-to-eat chorizo sausages are sold at supermarkets, butcher and charcuterie shops and European-style delis.
Eric’s options: The prawns used in today’s recipe came from Oak Bay Seafood (oakbayseafood.com). No matter where you shop, it’s best to call ahead to see if they are stocking spot prawns that day. When spot prawns are not available, simply use another type of wild prawn tail in this recipe.
Here’s a tangy southern-style sauce that you can dollop alongside the prawns and other items in the sheet pan dinner once plated.
Preparation time: five minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: about 1/2 cup
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp finely chopped sweet mixed pickles or sweet green relish
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp capers, finely chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
• pinch dried tarragon and paprika
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed for the sheet pan dinner.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.