Buy, defrost, peel & devein
Australia’s prawn fishers and farmers work hard to supply top quality prawns from ship to store, from water to waiter, and it’s easy to choose the best and keep them in top condition to enjoy at home. Here’s how to select, defrost and peel Australian Prawns
How to peel and devein Australian Prawns – cooked or green (raw).
It’s really quite simple – twist off the head, peel the body sections off one segment at a time and “pop” the tail off by squeezing the last segment. The whole prawn is edible, so you can leave the tail on for more impressive presentation. A prawn with the tail on is called a cutlet.
The easiest way to thaw frozen prawns is to put them in an airtight container in the fridge 24 hours before you need them. Make sure you keep them out of their own juices. Keeping them in a sealed container prevents unnecessary cross contamination, dehydration and oxidisation. Thawing at low temperatures helps maintain quality.
A quick and simple way to defrost prawns while keeping their flavour and texture is to fill a bowl or bucket with cold water and add salt until it tastes like the ocean (roughly 2 tablespoons per litre).
Place the frozen prawns in this cool water brine until they are firm, not hard, (10-15 minutes should do it) then drain and cook or serve.
Once defrosted, return the prawns in a sealed container to the coldest part of the fridge until you need them.
Once thawed, prawns should NOT be refrozen as the quality deteriorates.
Do not leave prawns out at room temperature or put them in the microwave to defrost. Microwaving can partially cook the prawn and leave the inside raw, which will make the prawn tough and unpalatable. Thawing at room temperature can result in uneven thawing and create an opportunity for bacteria.
Prawns may be added to dishes like soups and curries without being thawed as the heat of the cooking with thaw them and any juice they give off will add to the flavour.
If you are not going to cook green prawns immediately after defrosting, it is best keep defrosted green prawns in a salted ice brine (1 part ice 2 parts salted water) for no longer than 3 days. If stored longer than this, they are in danger of developing black spot.
It’s optional if you want to remove the vein, or digestive tract, that runs along the back of the prawn. Cooking prawns removes all the bacteria, so it’s safe to eat a cooked prawn that hasn’t been deveined. The easiest way is to straighten out the prawn and run a sharp knife along its back and then simply lift out the vein.
On a green (uncooked) prawn, this deveined section is a perfect place to put some marinade before cooking.
Before you buy
The key to maintaining freshness is temperature — the colder the better. Bring an esky with ice when you buy your prawns especially if you have other shopping to do and your Australian prawns are going to spend any time in the car. Make sure the prawns are not in direct contact with pure ice water, they can get waterlogged. Best to keep them wrapped and surrounded by ice.
Use all your senses — prawns should smell like the ocean, feel firm, look bright and lustrous (not slimy). Look for intact legs, feelers and eyes. If your prawns look like this, they should taste great.
Natural prawn colouring can vary from almost translucent for some types of uncooked Banana prawns through to the vivid orange of cooked farmed tigers.
Black heads and spots on the body or discolouration around the joints mean a prawn isn’t in the best condition, however, even with these, the flesh can still be unaffected, but best to be wary. (Endeavour prawns can still be fresh, even with dark heads click here for more info.) Any hint of ammonia or iodine when you smell indicates the prawns are definitely past their best and should be avoided.
Soft shells may not be a decisive indicator of poor eating quality as the shell may be soft because the prawn has just moulted. In this case, use the other checks we outlined here.
Fresh and frozen
Most prawns caught a sea are sorted and packed within moments of being caught. Prawns can be cooked at sea and frozen, stored fresh in an ice/brine mix or frozen uncooked or “green” at sea.
Freezing prawns soon after catch immediately preserves the quality, freshness and flavour, enabling them to be transported and stored while keeping quality high.
Here’s a great way to save money and ensure you’ll always have prawns year round. All you have to do is make some room in your freezer. Prawns are often packed frozen into 3 or 5 kg boxes. This way, they can keep for up to 18 months with no trouble at all at freezer temperatures around -18 degrees. Purchasing a 3 or 5 kg box, rather than loose thawed prawns can save you tens of dollars per kilo. Boxes can be purchased from retailers, ordered online or found at markets. Whenever you need prawns, simply break off the prawns you need from the 5 kg box in your freezer, thaw and cook or serve. Often retailers run specials on 5 kg boxes. It might seem like a lot of prawns for one purchase, but when you have them handy all the time and save money, it makes a lot of sense.
How are prawns processed?
Most whole prawns are simply cooked in salt water and/or frozen.
A majority of prawn processing occurs immediately on the vessel or at the farm. Before freezing, prawns are dipped in “meta” or sodium metabisulphate. This stops bacteria in the heads turning them black. Producers are experimenting with more natural ways of preserving prawns such as Kakadu plum. This pure, and simple process means that prawns aren’t just a sustainable source of protein, they require very little land and precious fresh water in the entire production process.