Summer will probably start winding down soon (though you wouldn't know it from the amazing weather we've been having), and I was thinking back to one of my favorite bites this season. A few weeks ago, L and I headed down to Federal Way with J+J+S to scout out a new Korean restaurant. Before heading back north, we made a stop at H Mart, the Korean uber-market, full of lots of fresh produce, meats and seafood.
The last time I was in an H Mart, I remember marveling at the tanks of live spot prawns... a seasonal treat, usually from mid to late May through the end of the summer. Lucky for us, this time we were there right near the tail end of the season, and the tanks were teeming with fresh, live spot prawns.
What makes spot prawns so fantastic? They have a super clean, lightly sweet flavor and require only the slightest bit of cooking. Better yet, the spot prawns are phenomenal in raw preparations. When prepared from live spot prawns, the flesh has this unbelievable lightly firm, delicate texture... just a hint of resistance and the ultimate clarity of flavor. You'll recognize these gems as amaebi at your favorite trusted sushi bar.
Another great thing about spot prawns is that while most shrimp (either wild or farmed) are among the most environmentally destructive and unsustainable seafoods, spot prawn fisheries have the potential to be highly sustainable with minimal impact, if maintained properly. The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates spot prawns from British Columbia as a "best choice" for sustainability, with West Coast spot prawns in general a "good alternative."
The spot prawn ceviche preparation is incredibly easy. Take the live prawn and, using a very sharp knive, remove the head from the body as quickly as possible. Remove the shell from the body---gently---make a small incision to remove the vein, and cut the prawn into the desired size. At this point, you can already go ahead and eat the spectacularly fresh meat.
If you do decide to dress it for a ceviche-style preparation, use a light dressing to avoid overpowering the flavor of the spot prawn. We used a vinaigrette of 1 part meyer lemon juice to 3 parts high quality, grassy olive oil, and just a pinch of salt with a bit of chive to accent it. And just like that, you have one of the great dishes of summer.
But that's not all you can do... you still have the heads, which are more than half the weight of the spot prawn. Remove the thick exoskeleton sheath from the head, leaving all other exoskeleton intact (including antenna, legs, eyes, etc.). Dust with rice flour and deep fry in 375 degree oil until crispy, about 3 minutes.
In contrast to the body, the shrimp heads have an explosively rich, powerfully concentrated flavor of... well, shrimp... which pairs perfectly with the crispy texture. Everything is edible... legs, eyes, everything. Just make sure you remove that one external exoskeleton piece before flouring and frying... it's too thick to fry and eat. Serve with a lemon wedge, maybe a bit of aioli, and you're set.
Together, a perfect pairing of two polar opposites from the same product!