Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Spot Prawns!

Every year in May, those of us who live in the Cowichan Valley anxiously anticipate the arrival of Spot Prawn season in Cowichan Bay. This is the time of year when some of the best that the sea has to offer sends us these beautiful, sweet and delicious gems.  We get so excited in fact that we have a whole festival to celebrate their arrival.  People come from all over with buckets and bins to buy these little prawns and take them home and have a feast.  Chefs come out to give demonstrations on how to cook them, local musical talent such as my favourite marimba bands play for the crowds and there are goodies of all sorts to be had.  This is definitely the festival of the year for Cowichan Bay.

Why all the fuss for these prawns you ask?  Well, first of all they are local. Most prawns that you by in the grocery store come from Asia and are not harvested responsibly.  In fact the way many of these prawns are farmed and fished decimates not only the sea bed in which they grow but also has harmful social consequences for those who are fishing and processing the prawns.  

Spot prawns however, are wild, local to British Columbia and are fished in a small window of time (May -June) with traps, not trawler nets.  The stocks are carefully monitored and protected so that  this remains a sustainable fishery.  The David Suzuki foundation has designated Spot Prawns as a Best Choice and they are also an Ocean Wise seafood choice.  And of course, they are delicious.

While you can buy them frozen year round, Spot Prawns are best eaten fresh out of the sea.  That is exactly what we did this weekend.  Cowichan Bay is the place to be and you can either buy the prawns off the dock or go to my favourite seafood market, Cowichan Bay Seafood.  You will have the choice of either buying them live and whole or just the tails.  Now, I recognize that for many people, the thought of buying live prawns and having to kill them before you eat them may seem like a bit much. I too was once that person until my husband talked me through it over the phone one very brave day.  Yes, they can be a bit daunting, and yes they jump.  I swear one year they sounded like they were going to escape from the bag and start running amuck all over the car as I drove them home.  But if I could get over it, so can you.  Make sure that either the bag you bring them home in is tied well or you put them in a bucket with a lid.

This is what they look like live, just be careful of their horn!
Once you get them home, toss them into the sink (DO NOT RINSE THEM) and just tell yourself that you are connecting with your food, right from the source.  We all need to do this more often, it gives us a greater appreciation for what we are eating.  To de-head them, you simply hold their body with one hand and twist off their heads.  I know this sounds gruesome, but I'm sure that your hamburger that came from the slaughterhouse wasn't much prettier.  Processing the prawns is actually not that bad at all.  Once you have the heads off, either cook your prawns immediately or put them on ice for a few hours.

As for cooking them, well, the possibilities are endless.  You can put them into lovely pasta dishes, tacos, make a bisque, grill them or pan fry them.  The ones that I have pictured here were sautéed in butter and garlic.  Whatever way you like to eat them, this is the time to do it.  We are so fortunate to have have these little guys here in our waters and supporting our local fisheries is good for all of us.

Spot Prawns in Garlic Butter
Serves 4

1 1/2 - 2 lbs fresh Spot Prawns
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Unsalted Butter

De-head your prawns.  Melt the butter in a large pan with the garlic.  Be careful not to brown the garlic. Toss the prawns in and cook for a few minutes, just until they turn pink.  These prawns are so sweet and fresh that you don't want to overcook them and make them rubbery.  Serve with Mango Salsa and a good glass of white wine.

Mango Salsa

2 large mangoes cubed
1/2 red onion, minced
1 firm tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes to taste
small pinch red pepper flakes
Sea salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit for 1/2 hour in the fridge to meld the flavours. Enjoy with your prawns!

Coconut lime rice

2 Tbsp Coconut oil
4 spring onions
1 1/2 cups Basmati Rice
Juice of one lime

First, wash your rice and put to the side.  In a large pot, heat your oil and then add the spring onions.  Sauté for a minute or so and then add your rice.  Toss everything together and add 3 cups water and a pinch of salt.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.  Once the timer has gone, squeeze in the lime juice and fork through.  Serve with your prawns and mango salsa.  

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