Prawns are an Aussie classic for good reason – they are delicious and so versatile! Whether you're enjoying them freshly peeled by the water with a squeeze of lemon, cooked in a stir-fry or fried rice, or on the BBQ, it's hard to go wrong.
Here is the ultimate guide to cooking prawns... Save it for the next time you're craving a crustacean!
There are a total of seven species of prawn sold commercially in Australia, with some being supremely popular (Tiger, King and Banana), and others lesser-known, but no less delicious (School, Endeavor, Bay, and Royal Red).
Tiger, King, and Banana prawns are the types you will see most often in your local fishmonger.
The species you choose to buy is entirely up to personal preference and budget, but one important thing to consider is the size. While large prawns are satisfying to eat, and easy to peel, they often come with a higher price tag, and our rule of thumb is the smaller the prawn, the sweeter the meat! This means that buying medium-sized prawns is a great way to achieve the best balance of size, value and taste.
Prawns are highly perishable in their raw state, and so are often frozen or boiled at sea as soon as they are caught. When prawns are cooked like this, they will appear bright orange. If you intend to cook your prawns at home, buy green (raw) prawns, as cooked prawns will toughen if reheated.
When shopping, look for brightly coloured, firm, intact, lustrous shells, without any discolouration (particularly at joints), and a pleasant fresh sea smell. Store prawns in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and eave them in their shells until just before cooking. Once thawed, frozen prawns should not be refrozen.
Peeling prawns like an expert takes some practice, and while most Aussies have had plenty of that already, we will run through the basics here.
First, grasp the prawn firmly with your non-dominant hand, and twist the head off where the head meets the body. You can devein in the same step here with a gentle wiggle, using the head to drag the digestive tract out of the back of the prawn. Then, use your dominant hand’s thumb to run along the underside of the body, getting under the edge of the shell, and remove the legs and shell together.
If you need some help visualising, check out this step-by-step video guide.
If you’re buying cooked prawns, all you really need to do is serve them up with a squeeze of lemon (or a dipping sauce like this one, if you’re feeling fancy), and finger bowls for your guests to wash their fingers.
But if you want to take your prawn eating experience one step further, grab some green prawns and try one of the following cooking methods!
The perfect summer cooking method, BBQing applies high heat to caramelise and sweeten seafood. When cooking prawns in this way, turn them as little as possible to minimise the risk of damaging the flesh: cook one side, then turn and cook the other side.
They should only take 3-4 minutes to become opaque and deliciously cooked. For added wow-factor and to make your prawns easier to eat when entertaining, try skewering your prawns before popping them on the BBQ.
We recommend trying Barbecued Chermoula Prawns with Chickpea Salad or Barbecued Coriander and Pepper Prawns.
By far one of the easiest and most popular ways to cook prawns is by stir-frying them. Whether you choose a sweet, sticky sauce, or a zingy Asian-inspired marinade, stir-frying cooks prawns quickly and without too much fuss. Then, just serve with some rice, noodles, veggies, or a salad for a simple weeknight dinner! If stir-frying veggies at the same time, make sure to throw the prawns in last to avoid them becoming overcooked.
For a delicious dinner, try Stir-fried Prawns with Red Capsicum and Broccolini, or Stir-fried Ginger and Honey Prawns.
Steaming is a fantastic way to let the flavours of seafood shine through, and also to cook without the need for too much oil. This is our favourite dish using steaming, which takes inspiration from traditional Chinese Yum Cha: Steamed Tiger Prawns with Chinese Rice Wine, Ginger & Green Onions.
School prawns are a special case when it comes to cooking. They are often too small to make peeling worthwhile, so the best way to eat them is deep fried whole, like Sydney Seafood School shows in this recipe video!
Don’t be afraid of the heads and legs – they become crispy like potato chips once fried, and only add to the flavour and crunch.
Soups and Bisques
Prawns’ firm texture and sweetness make them great candidates for poaching in soups like a Laksa, or as the foundational flavour for a delicious traditional seafood bisque.
The flavour for bisque comes from the shells of shellfish, making it a very economical soup. Whenever you peel prawns for a dish, freeze the shells and heads until you have enough to make this delicious soup, you’ll need the shells from about 18 large prawns.
Try a Prawn Laksa or Prawn Bisque.