recipe

Credit: Photography by Earl Carter

Barbecue tiger prawns with peach and chilli dressing

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Photography by Earl Carter

There is something about the 1980s Australian Tourism Commission commercial, featuring Paul Hogan, that still fills me with cultural cringe. It’s an awful commercial that has dated badly, but it’s the use of the word “shrimp” that annoys me most. I don’t think I’ve ever referred to prawns as shrimp. It’s a word that conjures images of the tiny pink things found in suburban Chinese fried rice, or a line from a bad American sitcom. It does not, in any way, describe the wonder of an Australian tiger prawn caught in the waters off our northern or eastern coastlines.

Prawn fishing has come a long way in the past 40 years, unlike jingoistic Australian tourism commercials. Many of our coastal regions are fished with a highly regulated management approach, which means the sustainability of stock is of the highest priority.

We are entering an era where we need to make informed decisions about most of our purchases – from food to clothes to electricity suppliers. Prawns are no exception. You can pretty much guarantee a cheap prawn is not a sustainable prawn. So, if you are going to “slip an extra shrimp on the barbie”, you need to think ethically and buy wisely.

The prawns I use here are green tiger prawns from the Northern Territory. They are large: you get six to eight in a kilogram. Technological advances mean most green prawns are harvested and frozen on the boats to ensure maximum freshness to the consumer. Once the prawn is defrosted, it needs to be used within a couple of days to prevent discolouration of the shell. I choose to use the whole prawn and grill it in its shell. While I am not one to suck prawn heads to extract every morsel from them, I am a great believer in the wonderful flavours that transfer from the grilled shell to the flesh. Grilling in the shell also means the flesh is cushioned from the fierce heat of the grill.

I split the prawn lengthways from the head to the tail on the underside and flatten it with the palm of my hand for grilling. It is at this point you need to clean the intestinal tract from the prawn. It is one of the few times in the modern kitchen that a cook comes face to face with the intestinal workings of a creature, and it reminds us that “gutting” is not something we have to do terribly often.

Once cleaned and rinsed, the prawns are brushed with oil and cooked on a very hot grill, shell-side down. My preference is for an alfresco barbecue, but you can also use a cast-iron grill plate on a gas burner on the stove, with an excellent exhaust fan overhead.

The sauce that is poured over is a little riff on a classic nước chm Vietnamese dipping sauce. This is a little sweeter and has the addition of sliced summer stone fruit and mint. Add chilli as you see fit. For those with milder tastes use a long red chilli, seeds removed; for those who like it spicy, use a birdseye chilli with or without seeds.

In essence, this seems to fit the portrait of Australia Paul Hogan was trying to paint all those decades ago – a warm summer, a grill laden with beautiful prawns and a dressing that nods to our multicultural society.

Ingredients

Time: 30 minutes preparation + 10 minutes cooking

Serves 6

  • 12 large A-grade whole green tiger prawns
  • oil for barbecue
  • 1 peach, white or yellow
  • 12 large mint leaves
  • 1 hot chilli
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 1 lemon, to serve
Method
  1. Preheat the barbecue until it is very hot.
  2. To prepare the prawns, cut the underbelly shell with sharp scissors to flatten out the tail, then remove the intestinal tract. Rinse and pat dry. Brush with a little oil.
  3. Grill the prawns shell-side down, until you see that the flesh is nearly cooked. At the last minute, turn them over and “kiss” them on the grill.
  4. Cut the peach into slices, shred the mint and finely chop the chilli. Mix together in a bowl.
  5. Heat the vinegar, lemon juice, fish sauce and sugar until the sugar is just melted, then pour over the peach mix.
  6. Pile the cooked prawns onto a platter and pour the dressed peaches over the top.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 13, 2024 as "Hogan’s heroes".

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