Every year around this time in May, people in the Lower Mainland engage in a seafood ritual: searching out and dining on the best and sweetest spot prawns around town. Richmond, with its many seafood-focused restaurants and its Steveston waterfront, is a prime spot for enjoying these coveted delicacies.
For those unfamiliar with them, spot prawns are the darling of wild, sustainable seafood. Over the years, awareness of them has grown exponentially, as has local demand. They’re the biggest of the seven commercial species of shrimp found on the Canadian west coast, and are distinguished by their reddish brown colouring, white horizontal bars on their shells, and white spots on their tails. While they are available frozen year-round, fresh, live ones are sold for six to eight weeks, starting in May. British Columbia harvests around 2,450 metric tonnes each year, with over 90% consumed in Asia.
In order to ensure the sustainability of spot prawns, especially in the face of growing consumer popularity, there are a host of limitations that fishing boats must adhere to (eg. not harvesting females with eggs). As well, baited traps along the ocean floor (depths of 40-100 metres) are used in order to minimize habitat impact and bycatch (sources: bcprawns.com and spotprawnfestival.com).
This year’s harvest launched on May 12, and slowly, restaurants all over Richmond are including spot prawns on their menus. Here are five ways to enjoy them in the city:
NOTE: Be sure to call restaurants ahead of time in order to determine availability and prices since both will fluctuate as the season progresses.
#1: Buy Them Live and Cook Them at Home
You can’t get more ocean-to-table than by heading to Fisherman’s Wharf in Steveston, chatting with local fishermen, and buying a pound or two of live spot prawns that were caught that very day. If you can’t make it out to the waterfront or miss the boats, supermarkets, like Osaka (1000-3700 No 3 Rd), also carry live spot prawns. After purchasing them, it’s recommended that you take them home, and either cook them or remove their heads immediately. Otherwise, you’ll have mushy spot prawns, since an enzyme is released that softens their meat once they’re removed from the water. I made that mistake once, and they weren’t half as good.
Since spot prawns are pricey, you want to maximize the eating experience. This year’s catch ranges roughly from $16 to $23 per pound, so they are a bit of a splurge. However, based on a recent meal at home, they are most definitely worth it.
#2: Sup on Spot Prawns at a Restaurant in Steveston
If you’d rather not purchase spot prawns on the dock yourself, many of the restaurants located in Steveston will have them on their fresh sheets. Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant (3866 Bayview St), with its prime location at the end of the Steveston pier, next to Fisherman’s Wharf, is a great place for supping on spot prawns. Chef Sean Greenlay likes to retain their natural flavour, so expect a simple preparation, like sautéing them with garlic, white wine, and butter. They’re not yet available at Blue Canoe, but will be within the next week or so. Over at Steveston Seafood House (3951 Moncton Street), they’re offering sautéed peel ‘n’ eat spot prawns, with just some garlic, butter, and herbs for slight flavour enhancement.
#3: Let Your Favourite Japanese Restaurant Prepare Them for You
Spot prawns are known for their incredibly sweet and delicate flavour. Less is more when it comes to their preparation. For example, fresh raw spot prawns allow you to appreciate their unadulterated taste, and also can have a lovely crunchy texture. During the harvest season, quite a few Japanese restaurants in Richmond prepare spot prawns in a variety of ways. Kiyo Sushi (102-11590 Cambie Rd) offers spot prawn sashimi, sushi, as well as barbecued spot prawns. Other establishments, like Seto Japanese Restaurant (155-8460 Alexandra Rd) and Manzo Japanese Restaurant (120-9020 Capstan Way) also feature spot prawns, and often will deep-fry the heads, so as not to waste any of the spot prawn goodness.
#4: Try CAVU’s Six Spot Prawn Creations
During the duration of the season, CAVU Kitchen Bar (5911 Minoru Blvd) has six inventive and delicious spot prawn dishes on their lunch and dinner menus. The starter creations are a spot prawn ceviche with spot prawn consommé, chiles, cilantro, and lime; grilled peel and eat spot prawns (half or full pound) with lime peppercorn butter and kimchi cocktail sauce; and sautéed spot prawns with braised pork belly, served with a red pepper picante tomato sauce, potato chive cake, and apple jelly. For entrées, chefs are offering a 8 oz grilled sirloin with creole butter sautéed spot prawns, carrot nage, market veggies, and apple brioche pudding; Thai spot prawn green curry with coconut rice; and a Caesar drink-inspired bouillabaisse with spot prawns, local cod, Clamato tomato broth, celery, vodka, and crostini rouille.
#5: Enjoy Them Crisp and Golden, Cantonese-Style
You can’t beat Cantonese restaurants in Richmond for transforming spot prawns into addictive deep-fried goodness. Places like Shiang Garden (4540 No 3 Rd), Golden Paramount (8071 Park Rd), and Sun Sui Wah (4920 No 3 Rd) will coat them with cornstarch and deep-fry them with (first draw) soy and garlic. They also offer a spicy version or, if you want a simpler preparation, they can steam them for you. Order all three versions for full-out feasting.
The thing about spot prawns is that having some just whets the appetite for more. Fortunately, since the season has just begun, you’ll have plenty of time to try all of these varied ways to eat local spot prawns in Richmond!