As a child growing up in Bangkok, I remember going to the markets with my mother and seeing tanks teeming with live fish, eels, crabs, snails and clams, and tubs filled with live mudfish, frogs and other sea creatures. We could select our dinner live, and take it home so that it was as fresh as possible when we cooked it and the final dish reached the dinner table.
I guess that experience stuck with me because every time I go trout fishing at Detroit Lake, I take my “fish cooler” and fill it up with the cold lake water so that I can keep my catch alive until I get home and am ready to clean and cook them. This weekend, when I took my outdoor buddy Anne Thompson for her first trout-fishing experience at Detroit Lake, I indoctrinated her with my some-might-say-odd practice. told her to back up her Toyota SUV to the boat ramp at Mongold Park, took the bucket out of the back and filled it with clear, cold lake water. I didn’t end up with any fish that day, but was happy that Anne did catch two. Most of the morning the fish kept stealing her bait (we were using salad shrimp this time) until she caught her first trout and excitedly reeled it in. When we got home and I showed her how to cleaned her two trout, we were amazed to find that one of the fish’s stomachs was filled with several salad shrimp — she ended up catching her bait thief after all, and later told me that she was especially satisfied when she ate that cornmeal-dusted and pan-fried thief for dinner with her husband.
The weekend didn’t end up too disappointing for me and my family, even though I came home troutless that day, because the day before, Charles and I had gone to Portland to explore a place I’d found on the Internet — Om Seafood, which specializes in live seafood. I had read about Northwest spot prawns and wanted to cook them, and guess what one of the items that Om Seafood carried live was? Yup, spot prawns. When cooked, their flesh has a flavor and texture like lobster, sweet and fleshy. When we entered the store, we passed rows of tanks filled with live manila clams, periwinkle snails, geoducks, Dungeness crabs and black rockfish. Finally I spied the tank of live spot prawns. Their pink translucent bodies filled two tanks and they were sorted, and priced, by size. They were floating almost motionless. We ended up splurging and buying eight large ones, which came to slightly over a pound total. After they were bagged, I tossed them over the ice in our cooler and we started our hour-long drive home.
When we took the shrimp out, we were shocked to find that they were still alive, twitching in the plastic bag. We could see their gills moving in their heads, recycling the salt water that was trapped inside the gills in order to stay alive. I quickly got the coals started for what was in store for the spot prawns. One of my many memories of eating prawns in Thailand was having them grilled quickly and brought to the table still steaming. I remember their sweet aroma and the look of their fire-burnished shells and was eager to re-create that experience for dinner and share that with Charles. So here’s my take on grilled prawns, which Charles agreed hit the spot.
Grilled Pacific Northwest Spot Prawns
- 8-10 spot prawns
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½ bunch cilantro, finely chopped
- About 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) kosher salt
- Put the prawns in a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients and toss well to make sure the oil and spices are distributed over the prawns.
- Put prawns on the grill, cooking about 3-4 minutes per side until shells are burnished and flesh is pink. Take care not to overcook or the flesh will get tough and dry.
- Serve immediately garnished with some chopped cilantro and enjoy!
- P.S. Be brave and suck on the heads when you separate them from their bodies. You will find them incredibly juicy and sweet.