This classic retro starter packed with juicy prawns will never go out of fashion
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Brown and pink shrimps
Theses are most often available ready-prepared and brown shrimps are usually sold as potted shrimps. They are caught, then cooked – many are frozen, but occasionally fresh whole or peeled are available.
Shell on prawns
Can’t be beaten for flavour and texture. Although time-consuming to peel, they really are worth the effort and you can make great stock for risotto from the shells. At times, a shell-on prawn will have a dark green or black head – this occurs naturally due to a pressure change when the fishing nets are brought to the surface. Ready- peeled prawns are perfect sandwich-fillers.
Preparing and cooking prawns
Once defrosted, peel if necessary. Raw prawns usually benefit from being 'butterflied' (split nearly in half through the back), then remove the dark vein - which tastes bitter and is gritty. Butterflying a prawn shortens the cooking time and helps give a firm, but not rubbery, texture. They turn a deep pinky-orange once cooked. This colour change does not guarantee that they are cooked – the best way to tell is when the prawn turns opaque right through to the centre.
Defrost prawns in the fridge for a few hours, and never in water as they will lose flavour. As they are sold ready-cooked, take great care if re-heating them; they must be piping hot, but don’t overdo it or they’ll shrivel and dry out.
Cold-water Atlantic prawns
These are sold as both peeled and shell-on. Most are cooked, then frozen, so find them in the supermarket freezer. If you buy them ready defrosted, don't be tempted to re-freeze them. Stocks have increased and the competition for the market means that they cost less now than they did 10 years ago
Warm water prawns
The three main species available in the UK are from salt water, although occasionally giant freshwater prawns are available. Their size differs greatly, due to grading by size prior to sale. All have a dense, meaty texture and subtle flavour. Wild and farmed are available, as well as both cooked and raw – sometimes called ‘green’. They are always frozen at source before transporting, so again, don't re-freeze. Best known is probably the striped tiger prawn.