The first step towards preparing prawns happens during the purchase stage, when testing the freshness of the crustaceans. Produce fresh from the ocean is the ideal way to go, but not all of us have the luxury of being close to an ocean front fish market. So if you're buying chilled prawns make sure they don't smell fishy – in fact they shouldn't smell much at all. Choose a batch which is in good condition with their shells still intact, as this tends to retain more moisture and freshness.
Whether you are preparing raw prawns (sometimes called 'green prawns') to be cooked or pre-cooked prawns to be eaten straight away, there is a very straight forward way of going about it.
- Give the body of the prawn a light pinch along the back (spine) to ease the flesh off the shell.
- Hold the body of the prawn in one hand and twist off the head with the other. For a less hands on approach, lay the prawn on a plate and carefully cut the head off with a knife.
- At this point you can throw the head of the prawn away, or alternatively combine all of the heads together to make prawn soup or to be cooked up on the BBQ. The head is a particularly flavoursome part of a prawn which makes for a scrumptiously crunchy side dish.
- After removing the head of the prawn the next step is to remove the legs and body shell. The hands on approach is to pinch off the legs and open the shell outwards from the top of the belly to the bottom. The tidier approach is to take a firm hold on the prawn and slice the shell open down its back, and peeling the shell off from there.
- Then, depending on the purpose for the prawns, leave the tail on or simply squeeze it off.
- Lastly, it's time to remove the prawn's intestinal tract (the black line which runs down the centre of the prawn's back). There is no harm leaving this part of the crustacean where it is, but de-veining it is more appetising. Again you can use your fingers, or a sharp knife to cut it out.
- If you want to butterfly your prawn, follow the above steps, but leave the shell and tail on. Cut in and along the belly of the prawn, open it out and cook flat. Fry or BBQ the prawn, shell side down, so the flesh of the prawn does not stick or become tough. Lightly season and cook for a few minutes. Cooking time will vary, but the golden rule is to take them off the heat when they start to turn white, as this prevents them going chewy.