One of the finer discoveries I’ve made on the island is the Pacific Spot Prawn. Sometimes called Red Prawns, the spot is the largest of seven local prawn species. It is known for its delicious, sweet flavour and is a highly prized delicacy in places like Japan and Hong Kong.
The commercial fresh season for spot prawns starts in May and continues usually until (or whenever the Fisheries Department shut down the harvest). Spot prawns are part of a sustainably-managed fisheries and the size of the harvest is regulated with the health of the local population.
The fresh prawn is delicate and a key tip is to remove the head as soon as possible. There is an enzyme in the head that turns the flesh mushy. Quickly processing the shrimp will limit this action.
After cleaning the prawns are often frozen in tubs of salted water. Stored this way they will keep nicely for up to one year.
Where to Buy?
You can find the fresh prawns live in several seafood stores, or you can try your luck at the dock in Cowichan Bay or Chemanius when the commercial boats head to the dock. Sometime they will post signs on the roadway if these sales are happening.
We always start with a tasting of prawns simply sauted with either butter and garlic or a splash of grapeseed oil, gingerand fresh chilies. That first taste is always the most magical and a wonderful part of late spring on the west coast. The shells make a great stock to flavour things like bisques or chowders. Try this variation made with the Thai flavours of herbs, spices and coconut milk.
Join us on the farm for cooking classes and dinners featuring spot prawns in season. More details at www.deerholme.com.
Bill Jones is an author, chef and food consultant who can be found at Deerholme.com
Thai-Flavoured Spot Prawn Bisque
Courtesy Chef Bill Jones, Deerholme Farm
1 lb (454 g) Spot Prawns
1 Tbsp (5 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) sugar
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
8 cups (2 L) water
4 slices fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed and cut in chunks
1 bunch cilantro (stems and stocks)
1 lime juice and zest
1 can coconut milk
2 Tbsp (30 mL) cornstarch (mixed with equal cold water)
Salt and pepper to taste Fresh cilantro leaves (or basil)
Peel prawns (reserve shells) and place in a shallow metal or glass tray, sprinkle lightly with salt and sugar. Cover with boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes, drain and chill.
Place shells on a baking tray and place in a 350 F (180 C) oven. Roast the shells for 15 minutes, or until they have lightly browned. In a stock pot, add a little oil and add the onion, carrot and celery. Saute until they begin to brown, add water and bring to a simmer. Add the prawns shells, ginger slices, lemon grass, cilantro stems, lime juice, zest and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
Strain soup, check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper (or hot sauce if you like it spicy). Mix the cornstarch with cold water and slowly whisk into the hot soup. The mixture will thicken as it heats. Before serving stir in the cilantro leaves and cooked prawns. Serve immediately.