Saturday, 9 June 2012

Wild Mediterranean Prawns - Rosso, Rosa & Mazzancolle

Langoustines aside I believe only two types of wild prawns have passed my Northern Hemisphere lips. These are the good old cooked and peeled North Atlantic prawn and the small Dorset or Cornish shrimp. I was lucky to try a few whilst in Australia, however, even a number on sale there, branded as wild caught, were actually farmed. Farmed prawns vary drastically in flavour and texture. Huge numbers are imported from Asia as farmed frozen products and in reality the cheaper they are the worst they are. The very cheap black tiger prawns are normally tasteless, generally powdery in texture and more often than not have glaze levels equal or just below the net weight of the product; not great value, but they have their place. There are a number of refreshed products one sees on a fishmonger’s slab which mostly derive from Ecuador. These are of a higher quality than the generic farmed frozen product and commonly offer much more flavour. I regularly see these, especially the larger black stripped variety, labelled as wild Madagascan prawns which they certainly are not. In reality wild caught prawns are difficult to come by in the UK as we just don’t have any off our shores. With regards to raw products 'fresh versus frozen or refreshed' be assured there are none. Prawns suffer from black spotting (melanisation) on the shell which occurs almost immediately after the prawn dies so freezing is an essential option. Be aware black spot is harmless and only affects the appearance of the prawns. Over the past few months many customers at Southbank Fish have been asking me to supply them Sicilian Red Prawns. It has taken a while to source a quality product but finally we have achieved that goal. And not only did those famous Red prawns appear, but also some small pink ones and larger stripy versions – all wild, all beautiful and all needed tasting.

Red Prawn Gambero Rosso (Aristaeomorpha foliacea
Pink Prawn Gambero Rosa (Parapenaeus longirostris
Striped Prawn Mazzancolle (Penaeus Kerathurus

All Three species are wild caught in the Mediterranean within F.A.O Fishing Area 37. The Mazzancolle are caught very specifically from F.A.O 37.1 which stretches from Gibraltar to Sicily. This catchment area explains the love of these prawns by the Spanish who know them as El Camaron. The reds and pinks are sourced throughout F.A.O 37.1/37.2/37.3 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Major Fishing Area 37) 

For initial tasting I poached all the prawns in unsalted water. My theory was to try each prawn for its natural taste alone.

Red Prawn Gambero Rosso (Aristaeomorpha foliacea)

As expected the Gambero Rosso were just spectacular. The colour is so striking they seem somewhat unreal. We are all used to a green prawn which when cooked turns a shade of pink but these prawns start a deep red and hardly change colour after cooking. I poached them for just over 1 minute and allowed them to cool naturally and wow a super sweet prawn with or without the shell. The texture was fabulous, the colour was amazing and the taste was historic. Of course these come at a price but when there are so many cheap farmed products around they really stand out in the crowd.

DSTRKT Chefs (Rupert Street, Soho) Sicilian red prawns, truffled polenta, salsa fresca

So where can one currently sample these prawns? Well let me throw a few names of those I supply with Gambero Rosso and one might just take your fancy.

DSTRKT 9 Rupert Street, W1D 6DG London  Website
Aurelia 13-14 Cork Street, Mayfair, London W1S 3NS Website
Menulla 10 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2LT Website
The Table 83 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0HX Website
Duck Soup 41 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PY Website
Chelsea Fishmonger 10 Cale Street, London SW3 3QU Website

Pink Prawn Gambero Rosa (Parapenaeus longirostris)

The small Gambero Rosa were very different to the Rosso. Visually they were not as striking, however they were a very nice looking soft pink in colour. Quality wise, once defrosted, they were not quite as good as the Rosso but this is common with smaller prawns and sizes of green refreshed prawns 60/80 or smaller always suffer with softness and detached heads. As with the Rosso I poached them but this time for just under 1 minute. As a poached product in plain water they were nice but not amazing. A good pinch of salt would certainly aid the flavour. But wait - when fried in a small amount of hot olive oil and eaten shell on everything changed. A wonderful taste with the added crunch of a crisp shell and suddenly a very different conclusion; I could eat these all day. Additionally the Rosso were fabulous fried.

Rosso & Rosa lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil

Striped Prawn Mazzancolle (Penaeus Kerathurus)

I recently had a twitter conversation with a fishmonger about these prawns whom said that a Spanish customer of his was adamant they are the best prawn caught in the Mediterranean. He could well be right. Simply poached for 3 minutes they were stunning. Great looking prawns, meaty, juicy and so flavoursome. Being slightly bigger than the other two prawns they cope with the freezing process slightly better. The product also has a light ice glaze which protects the product when frozen. You may have noticed from the photo of the Rosa that they looked a little dry when raw. This is a result of freezing with no glaze.

So which was the best? A very hard one to be honest as they are all unique. Sitting in a restaurant I would like to have the Rosso placed in front of me. A simple but visually fantastic dish can be produced with these prawns and if a chef is attempting to turn the heads of his diners the Rosso is a no brainer. They also taste amazing so maybe they come out on top, but I can't help but consider the Mazzancolle which were incredible. Sadly the Rosa seem to dry a little as a result of the freezing process.

Southbank Fresh Fish
020 7639 6000

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