Food lovers in Vancouver know that for about four or five weeks starting in mid-May each year their Instagram feeds are going to be full of one particular item: fresh B.C. spot prawns.
Available only for about a month or so each spring, spot prawns are considered a delicacy, and are celebrated each year with seafood lovers queuing up to get them by the pound fresh off the boat, home cooks turning out feasts of prawns, and chefs giving the crustaceans centre stage on their menus.
"Sweet, clean tasting with a crunchy texture, the prawns are a local delicacy and best prepared simply, with sushi rice as nigiri or lightly steamed or boiled. In Japan, they are served during special celebrations; for me, the BC spot prawns symbolize the bounty and beauty of spring," says celebrated Chef Hidekazu Tojo of Vancouver's acclaimed Tojo's Restaurant.
Tojo's is one of several Vancouver restaurants offering a limited edition spot prawn menu; this year that takes the form of Tojo's Spot Prawn Kit, a ready-to-eat bundle of spot prawns and sides available for take-out. The kit includes a half-pound of locally harvested spot prawns, served with Tojo's Special Sauce for dipping the delicacy. You'll also get a breadcrumb coated and fried hake; a vegetable chirashi bowl featuring seasonal ingredients like burdock root, wood ear mushroom and asparagus; and a seasonal gommae of kale, swiss chard and broccoli.
Of course, devotees know one of the best ways to enjoy B.C. spot prawns is raw right out of the shell, so if you are ordering from Tojo's be sure to include spot prawn nigiri sushi. This simple, clean, fresh presentation is one of the most delightful ways to experience the sweetness of spot prawns.
Spot prawns star on special menus all around town. Check out seafood hot spot Boulevard, where Chef Roger Ma has dishes like Drunken Spot Prawns (Shaoxing wine broth, lime, pickled fresco chilli) and Spot Prawn Gnocchi (English peas, prawn bisque, Calabrian chilli crumb). During spot prawn season Yaletown's Provence Marinaside is offering a "BC Spot Prawn and Kutatàs Winery Menu," featuring dishes created to go with pours from the Salt Spring Island winery.Spot prawns are on the menu at Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in Vancouver while the delicacy is in season. By Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar / Facebook
For a bit of Thai flavour, Kitsilano's Maenam has a meal available via 24-hour pre-order, featuring either one or three pounds of local spot prawns. The beloved prawns also feature in special dishes offered at Blue Water, Coast, and Glowbal. Even commissary/food truck Japanese spot Takenaka is getting in on the seasonal action with spot prawns right now.
Spot prawns a big catch in B.C.
In B.C., about 2,450 metric tonnes of spot prawns are harvested annually, with about 65% coming from the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The industry dates back over a century in the province.
Spot prawns are the largest of the seven commercial species of shrimp found on the west coast. Some larger females exceed 23 centimetres in length.
But you don't have to be a top chef to get your hands on live B.C. spot prawns. Try your hand at home when you purchase the prawns from local sellers, and make your own ceviche or sashimi, toss them on the BBQ grill, or steam or sautee them stovetop. Once you get in the know about storing, handling, and preparing them, it is time to feast.
Where to buy live B.C. spot prawns in Vancouver
Purchase live local spot prawns either via pre-order or walk-up at several places within the city. Some vendors may have delivery available, as well as discounts for pre-purchasing. If you are going to a dock location, like on False Creek, be sure to check with the vendor about boat arrival time and any special process for getting your prawns.
•Fresh Ideas Start Here (F.I.S.H.) (https://eatfish.ca)
•B.C. Live Spot Prawns - False Creek (https://bclivespotprawns.com)
•Fanny Bay Oyster Bar & Shellfish Market (http://www.fannybayoysters.com/location/oyster-bar--shellfish-market#?utm)
•Organic Ocean Seafood - Granville Island (https://organicocean.com/blogs/captains-blog/wild-b-c-spot-prawns)
•Lobster Man (https://lobsterman.com)
With a file from Darren Kloster / Times Colonist