Spot prawns

It is the most wonderful time of the year! Spot prawn season. Spot prawns are only available in British Columbia for 3-6 weeks a year. They are strictly managed in order to preserve their population levels and so they are a rare treat when they are finally around.

Freshly-caught spot prawns

Spot prawns are pretty fascinating. They start their lives off as males and once they grow large enough, around 3yrs old, they turn into females. From October to April, the females carry their eggs on their abdomen. When they are ready to release them, they move to shallower waters to release them into the water column. Once the eggs are released, the females migrate back to the deeper waters. The fishery is so short because it is timed for when the females have already released their eggs but not yet moved to deep waters. This allows the population to replenish itself. Any berried females caught (i.e. ones carrying eggs) must be thrown back.

Fisherman’s Wharf at 6am

Last week I was fortunate enough to go on a fisher’s commercial vessel and go along for a day of fishing spot prawns. We left the dock at 6am and got back at 1pm to a throng of people impatiently waiting to buy the day’s catch of spot prawns. It was one of those lifetime experiences and I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen how these prized little critters go from ocean, to boat, straight to the waiting top restaurants. Not to mention that it was absolutely beautiful out on the water in a remote area I was sworn to secrecy on.

Commercial fishing for spot prawns

I ate a couple prawns raw, sashimi-style on the boat by lifting them straight from the trap, twisting the head off quickly, peeling off the shell, and enjoying the clean, sweet taste of the flesh. With the rest, they were quickly placed in a cooler still alive and kicking, and I cycled home along the seawall as quickly as I could. With spot prawns, you’ll want to remove the head as soon as possible because if you let the prawn die head-on, the enzymes in the head quickly deteriorate the flesh, causing the prawns to go mushy. And at the exorbitant price that the spot prawns command, this is the last thing you want to do. I was home within 15min of the boat docking, and had my partner ready a large pot of salted boiling water. I quickly melted some butter in a pot with a couple cloves of garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. When the water boiled, I plunged the prawns in whole, and took them out after exactly 2min, stopping the cooking process with cold water. I served them outside on the balcony with a cold bottle of white wine, and we had a beautiful meal of dipping the meat into butter and sucking out all the flavourful juice from the heads.

Spot prawns (top) with humpback shrimp caught as bycatch in the traps (bottom)

That’s it – no recipe with steps this time. All you need is spot prawns, salted boiling water, hot melted butter, lemon, and good wine. Enjoy it while they last!

Freshly caught spot prawn

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