Chef Frederic Booms,from Sydney’s Helm Bar, provides his expert advice when it comes to selecting and storing prawns.
The bright, vibrant orange hued colour of a perfectly-cooked prawn is in fact very different to the colour when they are first snapped from the sea. But how do you tell what is going to be a good prawn? Obviously freshest is always best, but even then it is difficult to tell which prawns are actually fresh – as many of the prawns sold in seafood markets (not to mention supermarkets!) have been frozen and then re-thawed for sale.
There are several quality indicators you can look for when selecting fresh prawns. First of all, do not be put off by the colour! Prawns only turn the lovely coral/pink colour once cooked. Generally fresh, uncooked prawns will be anything from translucent to a bluish grey. However, stay away from prawns that are discoloured in the head or shell, or inconsistent with the rest of the prawn, as this can suggest the flesh is starting to go off. If you suspect this is the case, the prawn will often also feel slimy and smell strongly of fish and ammonia. Fresh prawns should smell salty, feel firm and have a nice shiny outer.
Once you have selected your prawns, the best way to store them is on ice until they are required for cooking. Be aware that freezing in fact does not significantly alter the flavour profile of the prawn, so if you are not able to buy prawns fresh from the markets like this, buying them frozen is also fine – as long as they are not pre cooked.
Although they look nicer with their coral colour, avoid prawns that have been pre packaged, shelled, cooked and then frozen at all costs. From experience, these prawns are tasteless, rubbery, tough and generally inedible. It really is obvious when prawns of this kind have been used and it is a cardinal sin for anyone to do this at home, let along a restaurant! At Helm Bar, we always buy and cook prawns in their shells, as this helps to retain the flavour and juices and ensures they are tender. It is worth putting in the effort for fresh prawns as they are succulent and sweet when cooked properly.
At Helm Bar, we always use fresh Australian prawns. One of my favourite varieties is Chrystal Bay Prawns, as I find them meaty and easy to peel! This is important when you are going through kilos of them, as we do in summer.
Which comes to the next point – the cooking of the prawn! But that is a whole other lesson in itself…
Frederic Booms is Head Chef at Helm Bar & Bistro
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Here are a couple of simple recipes from Helm you can impress your family and friends with: