If you live on the west coast, you are familiar with the exquisitely sweet, firm fleshed, lobster-like morsel that is the spot prawn. We are extremely fortunate in Prince William Sound to be able to catch these culinary delights, but unless you’ve grown up down south on the bayou where processing shrimp is second nature, catching and cleaning these alien-like critters can be a little intimidating.
Meet the spot prawn. They are actually classified as shrimp, but don’t tell them that. Spot prawns have been awarded their stately ‘prawn’ status primarily due to their massive size when compared to their shrimpy brethren. They are, as a matter of fact, the largest shrimp on the west coast.
Spot prawns are easily identified by the distinct white spots on the first abdominal segment near the head, and on the fifth abdominal segment down near the tail. They have long sword-like rostrums (“noses”), and mohawk-like dorsal spines on top of their heads. Watch out for the sharp telson on the tail, it can nick you when they start thrashing about. Most interesting of all, they come out of the water bright orange already! Back in my east-coast days when I would buy bags of shrimp from the seafood counter at the local grocery store, all uncooked shrimp were gray. These orange shrimp were quite a surprise.
If you’re not planning on cooking spot prawns alive it’s important to remove the heads as soon as possible. Almost immediately after death, an enzyme in the prawn’s head is released through the body causing the flesh to soften. Removing the head is quite easy, but it may make some people squirm.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PICTURES MAY BE GRAPHIC IN NATURE, BUT ALAS, IT IS NATURE.
To remove the head from the spot prawn, or from any shrimp for that matter, firmly hold the shrimp at the rear of the carapace (or head). The shrimp may try to flip its tail about in an effort to free itself from your hungry grip, but be strong and hold tight!
Next, using your other hand, firmly grip the first abdominal segment of the spot prawn. Try holding it as close to where the tail meets the head as possible.
With a firm grip on both the head and the tail, simply twist off the head.
When you pull the head and tail apart, you may sometimes end up with some innards still attached to the tail. Simply rinse or pick those off.
Next thoroughly rinse the tails. According to www.wildBCspotprawns.com, spot prawns have an enzyme on their tails that begins to permeate through the shell and turns the meat mushy. Removing the head and rinsing the tail keeps the flesh firm.
For optimum freshness store the tails on ice until you are ready to eat or package them. They will maintain their structure for a few days in the fridge if you regularly change the ice and pour off the meltwater.
If you are freezing your catch, you want to prevent freezer burn by packaging the well-rinsed tails loosely in a plastic container or a zip-top bag, and covering with a light saline solution. We like to mix 1 tablespoon kosher salt to 1 quart water. Our shrimp have tasted great even after a year in the freezer using this method. We’ve tried vacuum packing the spot prawns, but the spiny suckers kept puncturing the bags.
I also bag and freeze the shrimp heads. When I have accumulated a few pounds of heads I use them to make a killer shrimp stock that I then use for chowders and cioppino’s. If you have the time and the freezer space, I would recommend doing the same. Why buy those tiny bottles of clam juice?
When you’re ready to eat you’re prized catch, you can either cook them up in their shells, or you can peel them prior to cooking for effortless eating. The best way to shell and devein shrimp is to use these handy dandy Seafood Scissors. They are about $10, and they are worth every penny. Don’t mess around with a knife. That’s too scary.
Insert the scissors into the meat of the shrimp near the top of the back (you’ll see an indentation or even the vein), and cut through 4 or 5 of the abdominal plates.
If you want to keep the prawn in its shell just pull out the vein and you’re done. Now grill it, broil it, boil it, and enjoy it.
If you’re feeling especially motivated, and you are a kind soul that cares about the effortless consumption of meals by your guests, shelling the shrimp is easy and it’s not as tedious as it seems. To remove the shell, peel back first two shell segments and pull the shrimp meat out while simultaneously pinching the meat out of the tail. If you pinch just right, and you pull carefully enough, the vein will come out with the shell. If it doesn’t, just clean the vein out afterward. Take note that spot prawns are really hard to peel when they are super fresh. The flesh will stick to the shell, so we tend to cook super fresh shrimp in the shell. They are actually easier to peel after they have been frozen.
And that concludes our lesson for today. For extra credit you may come to my house and clean my shrimp. If you have any questions comment or concerns, I’m here to help. If you have alternate methods, I’d love to hear them!