I really know that summer has arrived in Victoria when two items appear in my fish market -- wild spot prawns and Coho salmon. The prawns appear first and they are only available for about two months. A sustainable seafood, they are caught in traps just off Vancouver Island. In May and June, spot prawns are a food beloved by chefs here and for a few short weeks they pop up on restaurant menus everywhere.
Spot prawns are bigger than the largest jumbo shrimp. Their shell are a beautiful pinkish-red. Some fish markets sell the prawns with their heads on; however, my fish monger takes the heads off right before selling them. Spot prawns have a buttery, sweet flavor, almost like East Coast lobster, and a lovely firm texture. They are not inexpensive, but at this time of year I can't resist splurging at least a couple of times during the course of prawn season.
I decided to do a spot prawn recipe for this contest because while the prawns I prepare literally aren't "raw," they need very little cooking time. One recipe I found advocated steaming them for just twenty seconds! I usually like to poach them in butter. But for this recipe I thought that I would try grilling them. However, when the weather turned drizzly, I decided to simply do a quick sear on my stove in a cast iron pan. I had plenty of garlic scapes and cilantro in my garden, and my fish monger gave me the heads from the prawns, so I combined all of these ingredients to make a flavorful dipping sauce. —cookinginvictoria
2-3 people as an appetizer
Garlic Scape, Cilantro and Lime Aioli
extra virgin olive oil
cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with a chef's knife
First, make your aioli. In a small skillet, add olive oil and garlic and warm over medium-low heat. When garlic starts to slowly sizzle, add prawn heads/shrimp shells. Stir heads/shells so they are evenly coated with oil. Cook for about ten minutes or until the heads/shells get crackly and are smelling toasty. Remove pan from heat. Strain oil and let cool to room temperature.
Add yolk and two pinches of salt to blender bowl. Blend on medium speed until combined, then, in a thin stream, with blender running, slowly add about half of the shrimp/prawn infused oil. Add garlic scapes and half of the cilantro and blend until completely incorporated. Continue slowly adding oil until mixture has mayonnaise-like consistency. (You may not use all of the oil.) Add zest and lime juice, and blend again for about five seconds. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Put in a small bowl and chill in the refrigerator while you cook the prawns.
The Piece de Resistance: "Grilled" Spotted Prawns
Carefully (because they are very delicate) peel each prawn, leaving the tail intact. When all prawns are peeled, thoroughly dry them with a kitchen or paper towel. Put prawns on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
Heat cast iron pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, place prawns in a single layer in pan. After about 40 seconds, turn prawns. They should be pink with a delicate golden crust on one side. Cook for another thirty seconds or so, then remove from heat.
Pile the prawns on a plate, Garnish the plate with cilantro and lime. Serve with aioli dipping sauce and dig in. This dish is lovely with a microbrewery wheat beer or a fruity dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris.
In 2009, after living more than twenty years in NYC, my husband, young daughter and I packed up our lives and embarked on a grand adventure, moving to Victoria, B.C. There are many things that we miss about New York (among them ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh ravioli and New York bagels), but, I have to admit, that living in the Pacific Northwest has been pretty amazing food-wise. Now we have a yard with plum and apple trees, a raspberry and strawberry patch and a Concord grape arbor. I have a vegetable and herb garden, so I can grow at least some of our food. And we have an amazing farmer's market a block from our house.
I love cooking (and eating) seasonally and locally. And it's been very rewarding introducing my daughter to cooking and eating, and teaching her where our food comes from.