The renowned Sydney Fish Market offers a free consumer advisory service via their website, Fishline. You will find advice on seafood purchasing, storage and cooking, as well as information on a wide variety of seafood species. It’s a fabulous seafood reference site. I found their advice on prawns very informative; so I’ve included an extract on the main points below.
Image: the Sydney Fish Market website (click on the image to go direct to their site)
Cooking with prawns
- Prawns are highly perishable in their raw state and so are often frozen or boiled at sea as soon as they are caught.
- If cooking with Prawns, buy green (raw) Prawns, as cooked Prawns will toughen if reheated.
- Whether buying cooked or raw Prawns look for firmly attached heads and tight, firm shells with a good sheen. There shouldn’t be any blackening around the head or legs as this is a sign of oxidation, and they should have a pleasant ‘fresh sea’ smell.
- Buy 1kg of Prawns in the shell to get about 500g of Prawn meat.
- Leave Prawns in their shells until just before using them and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- It is always best to buy seafood as close as possible to use, fresh Prawns however, cooked or raw, should keep refrigerated for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 3 months below -18ºC. Once thawed, frozen Prawns should not be refrozen.
- The body of the Prawn is the most commonly eaten part, minus the head, shell, legs and tail fins, although very small Prawns are sometimes fried and eaten whole.
- The body of the Prawn is sometimes referred to as the ‘tail’. The digestive tract runs along the back of the body and is best removed in all but the smallest of Prawns.
- After removing the head from fresh green Prawns, hold the Prawn straight and gently pull the end of the digestive tract (from the head end), it will usually come out in one go. If it breaks off, use a thin skewer to hook it out from the back of the Prawn, or make a small incision along the back of the Prawn and remove it. In cooked Prawns, the back has to be cut open to remove the digestive tract. ‘Butterflied’ Prawns are peeled, with tail intact, split down the back and flattened out; these are also often referred to as ‘Prawn cutlets’.
- Like all seafood, Prawns require very little cooking. It is always better to undercook, rather than overcook, them, as they will continue to cook in the residual heat once they are removed from the pan. While perfectly cooked Prawns are springy, sweet and succulent, overcooked Prawns are dry, rubbery and tasteless.
- Cooked Prawns are good in salads and sandwiches, or eaten cold with a dipping sauce, but don’t use them in a cooked dish, as reheating them will make them tough.
- They marry well with a wide range of flavours and are suitable for most cooking styles. Tomalley, the coral or mustard from Prawn heads, gives a concentrated Prawn flavour when cooked; it adds richness to Thai curries and is responsible for the distinctive flavour of Prawn bisques and shellfish reduction sauces.
What’s the difference between prawn and shrimp?
- In the United States, ‘shrimp’ is the common term, even for large specimens often referred to as ‘jumbo shrimp’.
- In Britain, ‘shrimp’ is used for smaller specimens and ‘prawn’ refers to the larger ones.
- In Australia, ‘prawn’ is used for all sizes.