Pint of Prawns
Updated: Apr 6
"And then we go to the fishmonger's, I think, for a nice dover sole... and a pint of prawns."
Mary Poppins (1964)
Now what could be a better (sunny) Saturday seafoodie lunch than a shoal of native prawns brought home from the farmers’ market, simply boiled and served by the pint (I ate nearly two pints) with Marie Rose sauce, lemon wedges and bread and butter?
As memory serves me, the classic pub pint of prawns would contain the very common “North Atlantic prawn” or, more traditionally, the brown shrimp. But the species I showcase here is another one altogether.
Now, I’m no marine biologist but I believe these go under the biological name palaemon serratus. In the UK they are native to the south and west waters and are characterised by their pink/red ribbons (when cooked) as well as pincers on both the front pairs of legs (larger on the second pair). I’ve also come across these in Spain – once in a “Borough-esque” market in Madrid (the Mercado de San Miguel I believe it was), and also in Valencia, at a Galician seafood festival. There they call this type of small prawn or shrimp “camarón” (no connection I’m sure with any other wriggly, spineless creature). Specifically, this variety is called "camarón gallego".
In Spain diners might pay upwards of €75/kg for these critters, at least as at 2014 when this article was written. I believe, at the time of writing, they are available cooked on the online shop of a (premium) supermarket in Spain for in excess of €120/kg. Here I buy them for a still princely price of £30-35/kg, but as I've remarked before, all prawns are expensive. They’re hugely popular in the farmers’ market and only appear during a short winter season usually running from November through to about the end of January, and, given the number of weekends I miss them, you’d think I blink a lot of a weekend! Interestingly they’re preyed upon by red mullet which also tend to appear on the market stall in winter - it’s the crustacean diet that gives the red mullet its colour and full flavour. This was the first time I managed to get hold of some, though for some reason (wonder what!) they were around until March this year.
Biology lesson over, I would struggle to come up with a better treatment for these prawns than that offered by the pint glass. We look forward to the day when the pubs reopen, but wouldn’t it be great to make that day also a rebirth of some of the quintessentially British pub classics like this!?
Of course this one of my "hardly-a-recipe" recipes but I'm so fond of these prawns I was compelled to give them an outing on the blog. And simple was surely the way to go.
You could of course peel the prawns, dress them in the Marie Rose sauce and serve on a bed of lettuce for the ultimate prawn cocktail (see The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham, two of my favourite food writers, for a lovely recipe). The shells can then be boiled up for half an hour to create a basic shellfish stock which will add richness to a fish stock where it befits a particular dish. The only challenge with this strategy is that the temptation to eat-while-you-peel is overwhelming!
Obviously a home-made mayonnaise to make the sauce is to be recommended, but I don't mind admitting that here I used a shop-bought one.
Pint of Prawns
Ingredients (Serves 2)
2 pints of prawns (approx. 500g), cooked and with shell on
Marie Rose sauce
Slices of good bread
Butter, at room temperature
For the Marie Rose sauce:
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
3-4 tbsp mayonnaise (ideally home-made)
Tabasco, a few drops
Worcestershire sauce, a few drops
Cayenne pepper, to garnish, optional
To make the Marie Rose sauce, simply combine the ketchup with the mayonnaise and stir in the few drops of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to taste. This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge as it will keep well for days. Before serving, remove from the fridge for 15 mins and sprinkle a little cayenne pepper over to decorate, if liked.
Load the prawns into pint glasses and serve with the accompaniments and the Marie Rose sauce, along with finger bowls and napkins.
"The Prawn Cocktail Years", Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham (2006), pp. 14: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prawn-Cocktail-Years-Lindsey-Bareham/dp/0718149807
"Camarones, gambas, langostinos y demás parientes", pellagofio.es, accessed 6 April 2021