Dave Smith and Geno — and any of the other ’stache stars at Sushi Village’s Mustache Night — might think twice before ploughing through a bucketful with their bushy soup strainers. But spotted prawn season is in full swing and for the rest of us, these local delights can’t roll off the boats soon enough.
Spotted prawns, as they’ve traditionally been called and I’m sticking to it, (“spot” prawns is the current cool vernacular) are unique to the B.C. and Alaska coasts.
Some of the finest prawn fishers are based on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in Hecate Strait and up to the Queen Charlottes, and on the Sunshine Coast. But if you’re in the Big Smoke this coming month or so, swing by Granville Island so you can pick up a pound or three of fresh ones at the market or, better yet, hit the docks most mornings and you’ll be able to buy ’em right off the boat.
Once you taste a properly, as in not overly cooked, spotted prawn you’ll be hooked, lined and sinkered. Sweet, a bit nutty and oh so tender, they’re as addicting as buttered popcorn. I once ordered a pound in a little hole-in-the-wall joint in Port Alberni. They came in a mini-galvanized pail. I scoffed them down and promptly ordered another pound, after I’d had a deep-fried serving in between to tide me over.
Spotted prawns are interesting little fellows. Like all prawns, they’re really shrimp; we just call them prawns once they reach a certain size. And like the other six species of shrimp in the Pandalidae family fished off the B.C. coast (spotties are Pandalus platyceros), they’re also “protandric hermaphrodites.” Quite a mouthful, but all it means is that they primarily start life as males and turn into females in the final year or two of their brief three- or four-year lives. Now that’s a good trick.
Very few start life as females and remain female throughout. Those are called women. Sorry. They’re actually called primary females, also a potentially good name for women.
B.C.’s shrimp display all sorts of variations in things such as behavior and migration patterns, but spotted prawns, so named for the distinctive white spots on their orangey exoskeletons, are pretty much bottom dwellers that don’t migrate very far, except occasionally to shallower, intertidal waters. They’ve been found at depths of up to 500 metres, but usually hang out around 70-90 metres.
One of the best things about them, besides their delectable taste and delicate texture, is that the fishery is sustainable. So they make yummy candidates for 100-mile-or-so diet fans or other conscientious/otherwise discerning eaters around these parts.