Grilled prawns with orange coronation dressing
I first learnt of the process prawns go through after harvest from a fishmonger at Bay Seafood Market in Byron Bay. Freckle, as he is affectionately known, is one of the most transparent people in the industry and revealed that, once caught, prawns are brined by being dunked in salted ice water that has a small amount of metabisulphite added to it. This slows the natural oxidation the crustaceans undergo. Without brining, oxidation happens rapidly and results in the head turning black, followed by the rest of the body. When this occurs the product is spoiled within days of harvest.
Freckle told me he would often keep aside the last catch of huge eastern king prawns from the morning, to avoid them being brined. Prawns that haven’t been through the brining are not better, but they are different. They are also in keeping with my intention to show food at its most expressive – albeit with the drawback of having to race against time to use them at their best.
The flavour of a prawn is in the head and in the shell. And while eating them in their entirety isn’t feasible – although I have witnessed it – the best way to have a flavoursome prawn is to cook it through the shell for the whole process.
The technique of grilling the meat through the shell is beneficial in two ways. It releases the fragrance from the shell and also protects the delicate flesh from direct heat. Grilled prawns are at their sweetest when the cooked flesh is just translucent. After the meat has been eaten, the shells can be retained to turn into a bouillabaisse or a shellfish oil.
It pains me that I haven’t been able to eat a prawn in 15 years due to an allergy I developed as a young chef, because they are still one of my favourite things to cook.
Every time I grill a prawn, all I want to do is eat it. To me, the smell is synonymous with summer and I still fondly remember the flavour. But while I can’t enjoy them personally, I can share the joy with others through this recipe.
- 4 large eastern king prawns
- 2 oranges
- 50ml grapeseed oil
- 100g butter
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 15ml honey
- 1 bunch chives
- salt and pepper
- Using a small knife, split the prawns down the centre by running the blade between the legs and through to the shell, without piercing it. Press the prawn flat and remove the entrails line that runs along the shell. Use a small spoon to scoop out some of the orange head “mustard” and reserve.
- Segment the oranges by removing the peel and the pith from the fruit before running a knife between the sinews to detach each wedge. Squeeze any remaining juice over the top of the segments. Cut each segment into rough dice and strain, setting aside the juice.
- Heat a stainless-steel pan to almost smoking temperature. Press each prawn into the pan shell-side down and place a weight (such as a small pot) onto the head. Keep the heat on high and cook the meat all the way through without flipping.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the oil. Place the head “mustard” into the pan and cook in the residual heat until it starts to break down. Place the pan back onto the heat, then add the strained orange juice. Reduce the liquid by half before adding the butter, curry powder and honey. Boil to combine the ingredients then remove the pan from the heat again. Strain this liquid into a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Once cool, add the orange pieces and chives and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the prawns on a serving plate shell-side down, then spoon the dressing over the flesh. Serve with crunchy lettuce for a very pleasing summer lunch.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 8, 2020 as "Give ’em shell".
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