While the western king prawn – Penaeus Melicertus latisulcatus – has a wide distribution over the Indo-Pacific region, the species particularly enjoys the pristine cold-water environments of South Australia.
The world’s largest-known population of western king prawns is in Spencer Gulf, but there are also fisheries on the west coast of South Australia and closer to Adelaide in the Gulf St Vincent.
The prawns are fished from the waters of Gulf St Vincent and Investigator Strait by trawler boats at night, then sorted and packed on board. Most prawns are cooked at sea and frozen, or are frozen uncooked – “green” – at sea.
Freezing prawns soon after catch immediately preserves the quality, freshness and flavour, enabling them to be transported and stored while keeping quality high.
Prawns should smell like the ocean, look bright and feel firm. Cooked prawns should be a light orange colour, while green prawns should have a clear translucent shell with a bright blue tip to the tail. Look for firm shells with the body and head intact and no black spots, damage or discoloration to the body or tail.
Storage and handling
Frozen prawns should be stored at or below -5°C; fresh prawns should be stored at fridge temperature +4 / 5°C. When transporting prawns after purchasing, place in a chiller bag or esky to prevent any temperature variation until they can be stored in a freezer or fridge.
To thaw frozen prawns, place in an airtight container in the fridge 24 hours before use to prevent any potential for cross-contamination, dehydration or oxidisation, and to maintain quality.
If you don’t have that much time, frozen prawns can be added to dishes without defrosting, as the heat of the cooking will thaw them and any juice they release will add to the flavour, but they can also be quickly defrosted for immediate use by placing in a waterproof plastic or ziplock bag in a bowl or sink filled with cold water.
Do not leave prawns out at room temperature or put them in the microwave to defrost. Once thawed, they should not be refrozen as the quality deteriorates.
If not using green prawns immediately after defrosting, it is best keep them in a salted ice brine (one part ice, two parts salted water) for no longer than three days or they are in danger of developing black spot.
Hold the prawn, body in one hand, head in the other, and twist. The head should come off cleanly. Then, holding the body, grasp as many of the legs as you can and with your fingers peel under and away, lifting major sections of the shell at the same time. Repeat until all that remains is the tail and then pinch the base of the tail and the prawn meat should simply pop out, ready to be eaten or cooked.
The “vein” or digestive tract is the dark line that runs down the back of the prawn. It is safe to eat, but if you want to remove it, straighten out the peeled prawn, gently grasp the vein and slowly pull it out. If you find it breaks or is hard to grasp, the pointy end of a skewer is the best way to reach and remove it. Another method of deveining is to make a slit along the back the prawn with a sharp knife and lift the vein away.
The Gulf St Vincent prawn season runs from November to December and from March to June.
Here, the Gulf St Vincent prawn fishery shares a simple recipe for cooking up a nutritious snack of salt and pepper prawns.
Salt and Pepper Prawns
2 kilos green Gulf St Vincent prawns
1 cup cornflour
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Salt and pepper mix
2 teaspoons white peppercorns
2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
To make the salt and pepper mix, place the white pepper and Sichuan pepper in a mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. Add the salt and mix to combine then set aside.
Preheat oil in a large saucepan or wok to 190°C.
Place the cornflour and half the salt and pepper mix in a bowl and mix to combine.
Peel prawns leaving tail intact. Add to mix and toss to coat. Shake off any excess flour and cook in batches for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with fresh lemon and extra salt and pepper mix.
For more information about Gulf St Vincent prawns, visit the Wildcatch Fisheries SA website or call 7221 1960.
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