June 01, 2016

Spot Prawns!

It happens every May and it only seems to last a month... spot prawns from our own local waters!

What we call spot prawns are the largest of seven commercially harvest shrimp found in Canada's left coast waters. Large females (and they are pretty much all females by the time we get them) can measure 23 cm in total length, though the edible tail is much smaller.

We get our prawns live, from Oakridge Fish Market, which is our favourite shop for fresh seafood. The owners, Annie and Jimmy, offer great service and reasonable prices, and they've had their store since the mid-1990s.

The prawns are put into a plastic bag, which is then wrapped in paper. Of course the prawns try to escape and the bag is often punctured and the paper wet. The whole thing smells of the ocean, and that's a good sign. In theory the prawns should last a day or two in the fridge, but we always cook them up the same day.

Getting the prawns into a pot or pan can be challenging as the creatures flop about irrationally. This can be annoying.

Their ultimate fate is to be thrown onto an already heated barbecue, which can be a wee bit upsetting, especially for the prawns. It's either that, or drowning them in tap water first; we've opted for the straight-to-the-coals approach. And no, those weird sounds coming from the barbecue are not the prawns screaming in horror. At least that's what I tell myself.

After two minutes on the barbie, give-or-take, the prawns are ready to be served, and here to the barbarism continues as the prawn's large head (it's most of the creature's total body size) is torn off with bare hands. I suppose one could use a sharp implement, but after death by fire it seems only fitting to continue the savage nature of this feast.

The barbecued tail, shell removed, is tender, delicate and sweet. Dipped in a bit of melted butter can be nice, but the prawns are fine just by themselves. Scrumptious in fact.

A salad, a wee drop of wine, and slightly less than a kilo of spot prawns between two makes for a wonderful dining experience. The resulting mess of heads and shells is all that's left.

Most of our prawns come from the inside waters of Vancouver Island. They are harvested with traps and not by the more destructive practice of bottom trawls used for most other shrimp harvests. About ninety percent of our commercial harvested spot prawns are frozen and exported to Japan. The balance is sold fresh and live to people in BC. Prices can fluctuate dramatically and that's been the case this year already, with prices going up almost forty percent in two weeks.

Of interest, spot prawns are protandric hermaphroditic meaning that each individual initially matures as a male and then passes through a transition stage to become a female. In BC waters, spot prawns usually live about four years. Apparently they spend the first three years as males, and then transform into females for their final year of life. You can't make this stuff up.


Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

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