Growing up in Hong Kong, I remember weaving through the wet-market with my grandmother. I was fascinated by how she interacted with the live seafood and poultry before she brought them home. While many people would avoid touching or even seeing their food alive, my grandmother (among many other smart shoppers) would have physical contact or even a test of strength with their food before purchase.
It is the vendor’s job to prove how lively their daily specials are. They retrieve fish from the tank with a net to show how hard they fight and struggle. Contrarily, the “floaters” would be fished out immediately and sold for cheap. Generally, the feistier the crustacean is, the more likely it will be selected. Squawking and fluttering chicken are examined closely before slaughter. The purchases are killed before the customer to demonstrate that the merchant does not swap the live one for a dead one out back.
Whole animals represent wholeness and togetherness in the Chinese culture so whole fish, whole chicken, and whole pigs are often served during special occasions. With seafood as my primary source of protein, I am delighted when I see the heads still intact. I am never squeamish about looking my food in the face. Are you?
During Spot Prawn season, Vancouverites are bombarded by them on restaurant menus, at the market, and there is even a festival devoted to them. The Spot Prawn is local to the Pacific Coast of B.C. and according to BC Seafood, the harvest season is only 80 days short so these little darlings cannot be passed up. Local restaurateurs present them in a kaleidoscope of preparations but personally, I love them simply raw with the heads deep-fried, paired with some cold sake.
Help! I can see my detached body!
I shared a refreshing Thai dressing recipe earlier and what better way to demonstrate its versatility than through a Spot Prawn Ceviche. Although you may not suck the heads live, it is essential to purchase live prawns and prepare them as soon as possible. Swiftly remove the head from the body in one motion, then shell and de-vein the body. Either deep-fry the heads and eat them whole or save them for stock if you haven’t acquired the ways of enjoying head.
Many varieties of fresh seafood can substitute spot prawns in this recipe and I suggest to use what is locally available. Ideas: scallops, octopus, mackerel, sea bass, shrimp…
Thai Spot Prawn Ceviche
2 lbs. live spot prawns, shelled, de-veined, and cut into 1/2″ pieces
Zest and juice of 2 limes
1 tsp. palm sugar
1 tbs. fish sauce
2 small shallots, diced finely
1 Thai chili, de-seeded and minced
1 small Japanese cucumber, diced into 1/4″ pieces
1 small bunch fresh mint, chiffonade
1 small bunch fresh basil, chiffonade
1 1/2 tbs. toasted rice powder
Combine all of ingredients except the cucumber in a large, non-reactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until the prawns turn opaque. Drain off the excess liquid, combine the cucumber, and refrigerate for an additional 15 minutes.
Serve cold on rice crackers. Garnish with sesame seeds.
Glad that’s over. Just imagine how difficult it was to word this post without sounding pervy.