Most prawns have a narrow, tapering body, under which the tail is curled. When raw, they are bluey-grey or, in the case of the smaller varieties, almost translucent. When cooked, the shells turn pink and the sweet, meaty flesh turns white tinged with pink; brief cooking is essential, otherwise the flesh will become tough.
Prawns fished in cold waters tend to be more flavourful than those from warm waters. The part of the prawn eaten, the meaty body, is referred to as the tail. The very small shellfish referred to as shrimps are prawns, too – the term shrimp just indicates their diminuitive size.
Shrimps are slightly more tender and delicate in flavour than prawns and are usually used as a garnish or in hors d’oeuvres. The delectable deep-sea prawns, generally served as a main course, should not be confused with the estuarine mud prawns, which are edible but can be unpleasantly gritty.
Once considered a luxury item, prawns and shrimps are becoming more popular for dinner parties because they are relatively inexpensive compared with the increasingly high cost of beef or lamb. Like all shellfish, they are low in kilojoules.
Prawns are found in a wide range of species and colours, and all have firm, sweet flesh. Medium-sized prawns are what’s on most seafood menus, especially in prawn cocktails, speared as kebabs, deep-fried or baked in a sauce.
You’ll get anything from 25 to 50 prawns in a 500 gram bag or box, depending on their size. But you’ll only get about 10 jumbo prawns, per 500 grams, and that depends on whether the heads are included.
The bigger the prawn, the more ‘special’ the character, ie, less delicate and sometimes even with a distinct salty tang. Tiger prawns, brown with dark branding, are as big as you’ll get in this shellfish category. They’re a favourite on the barbecue or buffet table and commercial farming has seen fishmongers well-stocked with this warm saltwater favourite.
Stir fry (2–6 minutes, according to size).
Grill or barbecue (3–4 minutes each side).
Poach (3–10 minutes, according to size).
Place thawed raw shrimps and prawns in boiling salted water to cover, bring back to the boil, and watch cooking time carefully from that point. Simmer for 1–2 minutes, then drain. Shell and devein, if necessary, according to the directions given below.
Canned shrimps and prawns are already cooked. Take care not to overcook as they will taste rubbery. Drain liquid and use as is, or heat through gently if using in a hot dish.
Note: Deveining and shelling prawns are fiddly time-consuming tasks. Although slightly more expensive, buy them ready processed for convenience unless you particularly wish to cook in the shell.
Pull off the tail shell
Twist off the head
Peel off body shell.
With a pair of scissors slit open the back of the shell starting at the head end. If the head is attached, use a sharp knife to slit from head to tail.
Insert a toothpick beneath the vein until you have dislodged it.
Pull out the rest of the vein with your fingers.
Category: South African Cuisine