“Eat with the fingers, drink with the nose.”
Lifting the lid off the bucket, I carefully pull back the paper towel to reveal the chilled spot prawns on ice beneath. As I contemplate picking one up, a prawn grabs on to my finger and I shriek as I shake him loose and close the lid.
This week I’m preparing BC spot prawns for the first time. I’ve always enjoyed eating spot prawns – my husband Emrys makes them for us once or twice a year during the all too brief spot prawn season – but I have never had the experience of cooking them myself. While I’m quite comfortable preparing fish or chicken, I tend to shy away from cooking certain seafoods; in particular ones that are still alive. But if you’re going to eat these things I think there is something to be said for preparing it yourself.
Tonight we’ll be making my favourite finger food feast (chilled BC spot prawns with cocktail sauce and fresh corn on the cob) with the addition of ribs, for our friend who doesn’t really do prawns. Emrys picks up a few pounds of live spot prawns from the restaurant, ribs from the grocery store and some fresh, Chilliwack corn from a roadside market on the edge of the reserve. First I shuck and clean the corn, cut off the ends and set it aside. Next it’s time to prepare the water for the spot prawns.
I fill a large pot ¾ full of water and bring it to a boil, adding some salt, a tablespoon or two of minced garlic, a lemon cut in half and about a quarter of an onion, to flavour the water and keep it from sucking all of the flavour out of the prawns. As the water comes to a boil, I prepare a cocktail sauce by mixing: ketchup, the juice of half a lemon and a few tablespoons of prepared horseradish. I fill a bucket half full of ice and top it up with some cold water, to be used as an ice bath to cool the prawns after they’re done cooking.
The water on the stove is now boiling away and it’s time to do this. I open the bucket, exposing the prawns to the warmth of the kitchen. They begin to stir a bit, awakened from their slumber like a mass of seafood zombies. After thanking them for giving their little lives, I pick one up with my tongs and drop him into the boiling water. Trying to get them into the water quickly, one prawn gets free and lands on the stove top where he jerks around spastically as I shout “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” and chase him with my tongs.
Prawns submerged, I bring the water back to a rolling boil and cook them about two minutes longer. Giving the water a stir, a number of pink prawns float to the surface, indicating they’re done. I scoop them out of the boiling water and drop them into the cold bath, pushing them down beneath the icy surface. I do the rest of the prawns in small batches, being careful to apply a generous amount of hard cider to my mouth between each one.
After the prawns are thoroughly chilled I pull them out of their ice bath and Emrys pats them dry and arranges them in a dish, which we place in the fridge. The pot is cleaned and filled with water and brought to a boil for the corn.
Meanwhile Emrys has been preparing the ribs. After removing the membrane, he cuts them into segments and slow cooks them for a few hours in a mixture of water, Old Bay Seasoning and Frank’s RedHot before coating them in Tipsy BBQ Sauce and placing them back in the oven to finish.
The house smells delicious and it isn’t long before our friends Annie and Jeremy arrive. As we sit down to eat, I regale our guests with tales of how hard their dinner fought me; as is only appropriate. The prawns are delightfully succulent, the corn sweet and fresh, and the ribs tangy and tender. Everyone gets a little messy and there is plenty of finger licking to follow. At the end of it all, another delicious finger food feast has been shared with great company – and I’ve made my first spot prawns!