Prawn 101: Familiarise yourself

There are thousands of different species of prawn, but tiger prawns are one of the most exotic and delicious species of prawns. They are fished in both the ocean and fresh waters.

Most of them have a narrow, tapering body, with the tail curled underneath, and long, whiskery antennae. The body is encased in a brittle exoskeleton, and all the species variants have ten legs. When raw, they are bluish-grey or almost translucent in the case of smaller varieties. When cooked, the shells turn pink, and the sweet, meaty flesh turns white with a pink tinge; brief cooking is essential, else you’ll risk the flesh becoming tough. As with other types of crustacea, prawns fished in cold waters tend to be more flavourful than those from warm waters.

How to buy

Fresh prawns, whether raw or cooked, should smell fresh and clean, not fishy, and should look moist. Avoid ones that look dry or have broken or cracked shells. When buying shell-on prawns, buy double the weight that you require for the wastage is almost 45% in prawns, making only 55% of each prawn edible.

Prawns, when raw, are blue-grey in colour (and are sometimes called green prawns).

The common prawn variants

Tiger or king prawns, are the bigger and juicy variants, and are the types most commonly sold raw in the markets either whole (with their shells) or with their heads removed, called prawn tails because interestingly, the part of the prawn eaten, the meaty body, is referred to as the tail. When cooked, prawns turn pink.

Did you know, the small shellfish referred to as shrimps are prawns, as well? The term shrimp just indicates their diminutive size. You can find pink and brown varieties of shrimp, and they are sold cooked. Ready-peeled are the best ones to go for because cleaning shrimps is a laborious task.

If the prawns are shell-on, you will need to peel them. This can be done before or after cooking, but peeling them after cooking makes for a juicier, more flavourful prawn.

To butterfly a prawn…

To butterfly a prawn, make a deep cut along the belly of the prawn, gently open and flatten by pressing down. If you want the prawns to be straight, peel the shell (leaving the very end of the tail on) and de-vein, then insert a wooden skewer along its length.

Like all shellfish, prawns get stale very quickly, so store in the fridge wrapped in their original packaging or in a sealed container. Eat within 24 hours of purchase.

To cook…

Stir fry (2-6 minutes, according to size). Grill or barbecue (3-4 minutes on each side). Poach (3-10 minutes, according to size).

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