In order to do my part in eating local, sustainable food, I decided to forgo using crawfish in the Sichuan Crawfish and instead substitute live, local prawns. Since crawfish and prawns are both crustaceans, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to think of the prawns as tiny, underdeveloped crawfish.
Plus, even though it’s crawfish season, there’s a crawfish shortage down in the South and here, up North, too. I couldn’t find crawfish anywhere. I was looking forward to trying them, since I’ve never eaten crawfish before, but after a thorough search of the city, I found nothing. Live prawns, on the other hand, were at every fishmonger I went to.
The first time I had fresh prawns was when my family moved to Vancouver from Edmonton. Landlocked Edmonton didn’t have much (any) fresh seafood to speak of, so when we moved to the coast, we gorged ourselves.
During that first summer in Vancouver, my parents would take me and my brother down to the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf to buy pounds and pounds of fresh, live prawns. They’d be hopping around in the trunk on our way home and sometimes one or two of them actually made it out of the plastic bags.
My mom would steam them up and that’d all we’d eat: pounds and pounds of freshly steamed prawns with spicy-sweet soy sauce. It was the first time I remember being really interested in seafood, partly because that was around the time I read The Witches by Roald Dahl. There’s a part in the book where the grandmother tells the young protagonist about the greatest eating experience she’s ever had: sitting in a boat eating freshly steamed prawns and sucking the juices out of the heads.
I thought it was disgusting when I read it, but really, sucking the juices from the heads is delicious. (Hmm, was that sentence inappropriate? We’re talking about prawns people!) Even Chang tells you to “suck the juices from the head” in his note coaching first time crawfish eaters.
Even if sucking juices isn’t your thing, there will still be a lot of finger lickin’ going on with the Sichuan Prawns. These prawns are tasty: juicy and succulent with a mild, pleasant slow burn courtesy of peppercorns. I was kind of expecting more spice, but you lose some just from peeling off the shells, so if you like spice, feel free to throw in more peppercorns and dried red chilis.
Really though, sucking the heads is the best part!