In Italy they celebrate the first asparagus with festivals all over the country (though I’m told especially in Veneto), ringing in the first of the local produce after a long winter of root vegetables and grains. I remember being told that in cooking school and feeling a little left out, a little cast to the side that we didn’t have these traditions, that my deep and very self important 19 year old self had missed something important. That some deep rooted cultural practise that I believed in had just passed me by because I lived in Canada.
And while that was many things, self indulgent definitely among them, it’s also not true. We may not have the long standing history of it, but Vancouver has spot prawns. And with them the Spot Prawn Festival.
I didn’t really realize before I moved to Vancouver that seafood is just as seasonal as produce, but it makes sense once you think about it. If you want the best salmon in BC you wait until mid-late summer, you’ll catch the fattiest trout in the fall, but of all seafood nothing is as seasonal as the spot prawn.
They are the first things out of the water in the Spring, big prawns that are bright coral and marked with two namesake white dots on their tails. They are tender beyond any shrimp or prawn I’ve ever had and they have an unmistakably sweet flavour. You have probably seen them in Asian supermarkets swimming around, or on Japanese menus as “ama-ebi” or sweet shrimp, but the taste of them fresh from the water is a completely different experience.
They are also one of the only sustainable shrimp/prawn fisheries in the world, and we are incredibly lucky not only to have these glorious little guys swimming around our local waters but also to have a sustainable fish shop 2 blocks away from our apartment.
Now, spot prawns are not cheap, they cost a pretty penny, so these are not for everyday, at least not on my budget (they average around $15 a pound!) but they are worth buying a few every Spring to celebrate.
I made a light dinner of them the other day, with a simple Thai inspired mango salad and grilled the prawns until just they are just barely cooked. With a cold beer, you’d be hard pressed to find a better summer meal!
Grilled Spot Prawns with Thai Mango Salad
*If you can’t get spot prawns you can make this with any shrimp, but fresh and local will make a difference in the taste if you can get them.
Thai Mango Salad
1 philipine Mango (you can use Chinese mangos too, but the Phillipine ones are less fibrous, and often cheaper!)
1/2 a Cucumber
1/4 Red Onion
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp Fish Sauce
1 tsp Sambal Olek or other Asian chili garlic oil
2 tbsp Peanut or Canola Oil
Handful of cilantro and mint.
10 Prawns, head off
Zest of 1 Lime
1 tbsp Sambal Olek or other Asian chili garlic oil
1 tbsp Peanut or Canola Oil
Throw all the ingredients into a bowl and marinade for at least half an hour.
Meanwhile make the salad.
Mix the lime juice, fish sauce, sambal and oil in a bowl. On a rasp grate the ginger and garlic and mix it in. Check for seasoning, it should be quite strong- the lime, sambal and fish sauce should jump out at you!
Thinly slice the onion and add to the dressing.
Peel the mango with a peeler. Throw out the peel, then continue to use the peeler to get nice thin strips of the fruit. Add to the bowl.
Cut the cucumber in half and use the peeler to make thin strips of it. You could use a mandoline here if you wanted to, but then you’d have to wash it after, so I just use the peeler.
Mix this all together- this can sit for about an hour like this, but don’t add the herbs until your just about to serve it.
For the prawns- Heat your BBQ, grill pan, or saute pan until it’s blazing hot. Your only going to cook the prawns for about a minute each side, and your going to be taking the shells off, so you want to impart as much flavour into the meat as possible. If the edges get a little black it’s a good thing.
Once your surface is scorching hot put the prawns out in a single layer and let them cook for 1 minute each side and then flip. Once they’re starting to curl up, the edges are getting colored and they have turned bright coral your in business, take them off right away.
Mix your herbs into the salad, place half of it on each plate and put 5 prawns per plate. Poor yourself a beer and dig in!