The aroma of grilled prawns is unmistakable to me. It instantly transports me back to my childhood in Bangkok and Singapore, when my mother and I would roam the street markets. Food vendors displayed huge prawns, crabs, squid and other seafood neatly arranged over ice on one side of their stalls, while on the opposite side, a makeshift grill with coals glowing bright red were ready to roast the seafood when you ordered it. I remember the roasted prawns’ being one of my favorites, and the cooks tossing them with a little salt, chopped garlic and chopped cilantro before piercing them on bamboo skewers and placing them on the grill. Within a matter of minutes, their shells would start to brown, their little legs and antennae burn and curl, and they would start to smoke, releasing a wonderful aroma.
Most Americans are familiar with shrimp but not as familiar with prawns, and often mistake them for the same thing. The flesh of prawns when cooked is firmer, and sweeter in flavor, like that of lobster meat or even crawfish. You don’t see them very often at the supermarkets here. But during the summer, I’ve found Pacific spot prawns available at Om Seafood in Portland and Ocean Star Seafood in Salem, where they’re kept alive in tanks, waiting to be discovered, purchased and taken home by a discerning cook. I always take a small cooler of ice and toss the bag containing the prawns inside for the trip home. The prawns will recirculate the water in their gill cavities and can survive the nearly hour-long drive from Portland to Salem if they’re kept on ice.I was thinking of a light summer dinner today and had the idea of grilling spot prawns and then serving them over a cold noodle salad. Last night I was thumbing through Nobu West, by chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards, and was inspired by their cold miso dressing, so I came up with a slight variation to serve with somen noodles, a white Japanese wheat noodle commonly served cold. In Thai cuisine, these same noodles are called Kanom Cheen and are served cold, dressed with coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, ground dried shrimp, finely chopped ginger and finely chopped pineapple.
Miso is made by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans with salt and a type of fungus. The result is a thick paste used for soups, sauces, spreads, and for pickling vegetables and meats. There are many varieties of miso in Japan, but in the U.S. you’ll find two common types: shiromiso, or white miso, and akamiso, or red miso. I prefer red miso for its more intense and naturally salty flavor. White miso has a sweet flavor. The ratios between soy, barley, and rice account for the differences in flavor and color of red and white miso. Red miso is almost brownish in color.
Grilled Pacific Spot Prawns with Cold Somen Noodles in Miso Sauce
- 1 pound (455 gr.) spot prawns, or large shrimp
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) finely chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) chopped cilantro
- 3 avocados, quartered
- 2 bundles of somen noodles
- ½ cup (120 ml.) orange juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) red miso
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) ponzu (a Japanese sauce of soy and citrus)
- 4 tablespoons (60 ml.) mirin (Japanese sweet rice vinegar)
- 1 tomato, coarsley chopped
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) thinly sliced shallot
- In a bowl, toss the shrimp in a little oil and the chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) of the chopped cilantro and set aside.
- Fill a medium saucepan half full with water and bring it to a boil.
- Add the somen noodles one bundle at a time, spreading them into the water so they don’t stick together. Lower heat, stirring occasionally, and cook for 3 minutes.
- Strain the noodles in a colander and rinse with very cold tap water until the noodles are completely cold. Drain thoroughly and pour into a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, combine miso, sesame oil, orange juice, ponzu, mirin, and mix until the miso is thoroughly incorporated into the sauce and pour over noodles.
- Mix sauce and noodles together and let it sit while you grill the spot prawns or shrimp over coals. The prawns or shrimp will cook very quickly, their flesh turning bright pink when done.
- To serve, place a clump of noodles in the center of each plate, add some chopped tomatoes, avocado slices and shallots, top with the grilled prawns and then garnish by sprinkling on some of the remaining chopped cilantro. Drizzle any remaining miso sauce over each plate, if desired.