Preparing the prawns

Culinary Conversations
with Peter Blakeway
Food writer, caterer and private chef

Have you ever wondered where the frozen prawns in the supermarket come from? Maybe you’ve even checked the country of origin and will inevitably have found they are Australian or some other country in Asia. Why is that and where are all the Kiwi prawns?

Surely if they have them on the other side of the Tasman, then they must be here as well; after all they can swim.

Well, they are, it’s just they are a little harder to catch and therefore can’t be as cheap as the shallow water kind from elsewhere.

Our wild, native prawns are called Jack Prawns or Jack-knife Prawns and they live right on the edge of the continental shelf in areas that are 300 to 600 meters deep.

As a cook it is always a good idea to get to know what the fisherman eat, and yes you’ve got it – Jack Prawns are on the boat’s menu when our fishing fleet is out chasing scampi.

Unfortunately, the fisherman aren’t able to land them as they can’t sell them while we are all wedded to the idea of cheap prawns that inconveniently happen to be farmed in muddy semi-tidal pools a few thousand miles away. The last time I talked about these prawns I was told quite forcibley that I was potentially damaging the livelihoods of some far away mud pool owners, which is a shame of course.

But it’s a big world out there and we are a tiny market here in New Zealand, so in this case I think I’ll support our local fisherman who go out in all weather to bring our fish ashore.

So what to do with them? The simplest way to enjoy is to drop them whole into your biggest pan of boiling salted water, bring back to the boil and they are ready after just a minute or so. Alternatively, you can throw them in a hot pan with a knob of butter and pan fry them for about five minutes, adding a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and a handful of chopped parsley about halfway through. Delicious.

For those wanting something a little more sophisticated and who don’t want to be peeling prawns at the table – a shame as messy food is so much fun – then try this super healthy laksa

Jack Prawn laksa

Serves 4

800g medium raw Jack prawns

2-3 Tbsp laksa paste

750ml coconut milk

3 Tbsp fish sauce

150g trimmed and halved mange tout

4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded

250g dry rice vermicelli noodles

100g bean sprouts

35g Vietnamese mint

40g coriander leaves

1 large red chilli


Peel the prawns, using the heads and shells to make prawn stock using the 1.25 litres of water. Place laksa paste in a saucepan over a medium heat and cook, stirring, for three minutes. Add the prawn stock, coconut milk and fish sauce and simmer for five minutes. Add prawns, mange tout and kaffir lime leaves. Cook for a further three minutes or until the prawns have changed colour and are tender. Place the noodles in a bowl of water and allow to stand for two minutes until soft, then drain. To serve, place the noodles, bean sprouts, mint and coriander in bowls. Spoon over the laksa liquid, prawns and mange tout and top with chilli. Serve with lime wedges.


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