We didn’t expect to be cooking spot prawns (aka amaebi) this weekend, but on the suggestion of our excellent fish purveyor Tommy Gomes from Catalina Offshore Products, we decided to try these gorgeous things. I wish we had a picture of him fishing them out of their tank!
We were “lucky” (thanks Tommy!) enough to get prawns with roe, which we made into a really yummy snack that we’ll tell you about later. The row itself was pretty easy to remove. There is a light membrane that holds the eggs together and this is attached to the sides of the tail, but not to the middle. So, we just put our finger under the roe in the middle and pulled it off the sides. Here’s the roe on the prawn:
Now, we have never cooked amaebi before, and weren’t too sure of our sushi skills, so we weren’t totally sure what we would do. A little while ago, though, I had been reading about Michael Cimarusti from Providence in LA and had learned that he roasts his spot prawns in salt. In trying to find the recipe today, we realized he actually makes them in this episode of After Hours with Daniel. The idea is very straight — heat salt to 500 or 550, add some herbs, and embed the prawns in the salt. Wait 5 min or so and they are done. Pull the meat out of their shells and eat with olive oil.
Salt roasting is a technique that we have heard of, but haven’t put to any use. Before this, I had only heard of making a paste with salt, water, maybe egg white and herbs, and coating a fish with it before roasting in the oven. It turns out that you can do all sorts of things in a salt crust. The idea is that the inside steams because of the water inside the food, but once the water reaches the outside of the food, it quickly turns to steam in the hot salt. So, you get a crisp outside and a juicy, tender inside. Yum!
We started by heating two trays of salt to 500 in the oven. After the oven was heated, we waited 15 min for the salt to heat up.
We cleaned out the roe from our prawns and got them ready for the salt. One of the prawns was especially active and we cut through her head to kill her before we put her in the salt. The last time we got live crustaceans from Catalina (spiny lobster), they were so spunky that they tried to jump out of the boiling water we were trying to put them in! We weren’t taking any chances with these ones and the hot salt.
When salt was ready, we took out one of the trays and put some bay leaves in it.
Then, we placed the prawns in the salt.
We took out the other tray of salt and poured it over them. We used about 3 cups of Diamond Crystal salt for the top and bottom layers.
There were some prawns sticking out a little. We were worried they wouldn’t cook, so we put the whole thing in the oven at 500 for 5 min. When we took them out, the shells were lightly pink and still a little transparent, not the full pink that shrimp get when you boil them.
We broke one open and the tail was tender, juicy, and pearlescent white. We dipped them at first in some olive oil with salt and a bit of the roe. I think we need better olive oil for this, though! It was good with the oil, but the shrimp was best by itself with only the salt from your fingers to season it. It was light, almost creamy in flavor, and incredibly succulent, reminiscent of lobster, but not as heavy.
Some changes that we’ll make next time are that we will use more salt to cover them so we won’t need to put them in the oven. The prawns that were not completely covered in salt were not quite as well cooked as we would have liked, but the ones that were fully immersed were perfect. We’ll also cut them in half lengthwise before serving them — taking them apart with your hands can be fun, but is a bit of a mess!
We used the roe to make canapes with creme fraiche and a little red scallion on multi-grain toast. We though that the toast would be too strong, and it probably was a little, but the whole bite was exceptionally tasty. The roe is firm, with a rich flavor reminiscent of shrimp stock/bisque. It is very delicate, though, so a less flavorful base like french bread or a potato blini might be better.
The salt roasting really seems like a very powerful approach when you have a really good ingredient that you want to taste strongly of itself. We’re looking forward to learning more about it in the coming months.