Some alien prawns and how not to cook baby octopus

Shrimpgata 

The first thing you need to be mindful of when starting a food business is being careful about cross-contamination.  Although I do have a refrigerator devoted to my little cookies in the garage there are times when I do need to use my inside refrigerator. During these times, no other type of food can be stored in that refrigerator – no meat, no seafood, not even leftover pizza. I am quite paranoid about the off-odor given out by food past their prime so I always tell the “Hungry” Hubby to avoid leftovers.

 So after the farmer’s market this weekend, knowing that we have freed up our inside refrigerator, I suggested that we stop by the Yellow Umbrella as my chef instructor, Dave Booth said that they were getting in a new breed of shrimp called the head-on Malaysian Fresh Water Prawns that were raised from VCU’s aquaculture program.

I was thrilled about this because it’s a rarity nowadays to get shrimp with the head on. Although in Richmond, I think Tan-A might have them – I do need to ask them (Tan A) where they get their shrimp. After my seafood and shellfish class, Chef Booth warned us about shrimps that are farm-raised in other countries because he said he had friends that traveled to some Asian nations and after visiting their shrimp/prawn farms, swore they would never eat shrimp from those countries again. Since I am from the Philippines where a lot of prawn farms abound, some research might be in order the next time I go home for a visit.

Whenever you make a shrimp dish that uses the whole shrimp (head and all) and it has a sauce or a broth, you are in for a treat! The head of the shrimp is packed with a complex network of savory goodness, it is customary to eat it first as you eat the shrimp. Of course, that habit grosses the HH out because he is used to the traditional headless variety over here and seeing me suck all the guts out of the shrimp’s head looks uhm… barbaric. I would also like to point out that there is no need to clean the gunk that runs along the back of the shrimp other than for aesthetics – it is not toxic.

This Malaysian Prawn though was a type I have never seen before and believe me, growing up in our restaurant I have seen a lot. From fish that had jumped out of a bucket, to live prawns still squirming against each other. There was even a feisty mud crab that took a claw to one of our cook’s finger.

But never crustaceans such as these:

Shrmp1 

Shrimp2 

          I thought their pair of bright blue tentacle-like appendage looked alien and almost did not purchase them.  I asked the HH what he thought but the look on his face confirmed what I myself was feeling – uncertainty. Anyway, my adventurous side won out and I decided to buy a pound. I also bought half-a-pound of baby octopus hoping to replicate those yummy appetizers from Japanese restaurants. I guess that seafood class gave me more courage to work with ingredients from the ocean.

          As I headed out the seafood store, the guy that sold me the prawns said, “Watch out for the sharp points on that shrimp.”

Now he tells me.

Shrimp and prawn are used interchangeably in this country and they are culinarily the same. In fact, I thought their only difference was that prawns were bigger than shrimps. At the risk of getting too scientific for this post, one difference is how the segments of their tail overlap. For shrimps, the sides of all segments overlap the previous one much like roof tiles. In prawns, the second segment overlaps the segment before and after it. However, this is the reverse when you are in Australia. Others say prawns live in fresh water and shrimps are salt water inhabitants. Confused so far? I know I am.

When I got the prawns home, I immediately proceeded snipping off the weird blue attachment. I also cut off the jagged spears from the head and the tail. I was going to cook it with vinegar, garlic and coconut milk. I had my misgivings about cooking it this way since you cook it till you reduce the liquid. But I was dreaming about the resulting cooking liquid…

For the baby octopus, much like squid, I was told you either cook it very quickly or a very long time – there was no in between.

I decided to poach it for 45 minutes. Also, from a food science class I attended a year ago, there was some amount of tenderization to be had if you cook octopus with a cork – yes that cork from your wine bottle – so I threw in the cork from the wine we just opened. 

Prawn Adobo with Gata (coconut milk)

  • 1 lb. shrimp
  • ¼       cup water
  • ½       cup white vinegar
  • 5 cloves of garlic smashed
  • fish sauce or salt to taste
  • 1 can of coconut milk (about 14 oz)

Combine first 4 ingredients and let shrimp marinate for about an hour. Turn stove to medium heat and cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced. Add the coconut milk and cook until thickened about another 20 minutes.

*Adobo can be considered the national dish of the Philippines. It’s a popular way of cooking meat, poultry or seafood in vinegar. Because the Philippines is mostly a tropical country, and there is generally a lack of refrigeration in some households, the vinegar in the dish allows you to keep it at room temperature for a couple of days. For this dish however because of the coconut milk and the prawns, I would not test that theory.

  

Cooking Notes:

As you can all tell from the recipe, I cooked the prawns to death, which is really a big no-no. My goal was really to extract maximum flavor from the heads but in the process this turned the meat mealy. Next time I’m going to separate the heads from the shrimp and leave the head in there while the liquid reduces. I will take out the shrimp body when it is done…maybe after about 2 to 3 minutes and add it back after the coconut milk has thickened and heat it through.

The sauce, by the way, was to die for! I could easily lap it up together with some steaming white rice even without shrimp. I’m getting hungry again just by thinking of this tasty fare.

 Also, be careful when adding fish sauce – I recommend the Three Crab Brand which is readily available in most Asian Supermarkets – remember that you are going to reduce the liquid so the saltiness will get concentrated.

Octopus 

So what happened to my baby octopus?

Well, the tentacles got really tough. The head was okay. After I poached it, I reserved some of the liquid, added about 2 tablespoons to the pot I used to boil the octopus in and then added some soy sauce and tried to reduce it. I noticed the soy was not thickening up so I added some sugar. On a separate bowl, I mixed some sesame oil and a little hot chili oil and poured it over the octopus.

I think I’ve nailed down the flavor part as I remember it from the Japanese restaurants – I still need to figure out a way to get this sucker tender. (Get it, sucker…he..he… I am such a dork.)

  Here’s what I plan to do next time – cook it on high heat and fast. I shall reduce some soy sauce and sugar to a syrupy consistency, put the baby octopus in for two –three minutes and then add the sesame-chili oil mixture. Turn off heat. What’dya all think?

18 thoughts on “Some alien prawns and how not to cook baby octopus

  1. I think you just need to let me know what time dinner is ready when you do it next time ;0)

    The Prawn/shrimp sort of makes me want to go buy blue stockings. Now who's the dork.

    You are incredible Veron.

  2. I have to admit – I'm with HH and think that sucking the head off sounds kind of gross! But maybe that's because it's never really done around here. But I have heard that they make great stock!

  3. I keep thinking about you now that shrimp season has starte. We go catch them right off the dock every night and I now have a freezer full of heads and tails for stock!!
    I love the blue of the prawns legs! I've never see those before. Lovely!

  4. Hi Ted – yes I always reiterate to those who do not like shrimp heads to at least try them in stock. Makes all the difference!
    Hi Tanna – I'm trying to imagine you in blue stocking :).
    Hi Deborah – I do agree that sucking on shrimp heads can be really disgusting to the uninitiated ;).
    Hi Invinoveritas – yes if you could let whitby know that I did use the prawns. And that's great news about him popping the question.
    Thanks Maria!
    Hi helen – I am so envious that you can catch your own shrimp. It does not get any better than that.

  5. Shrimp can be persnickety devils…going from perfect to overdone in a matter of seconds. Took a seafood course years ago from Jimmy Sneed (Frog and the Redneck). He said to take the shrimp off the heat slightly underdone as they will continue to carry over cook on the plate to the table. Next time separate the heads so you can cook them longer for your stock and don't risk overcooking those tasty morsels!! 🙂

  6. Veron, even though your experiments didn't turn out as you might have liked, they still look so amazingly good.

    I've never seen prawn/shrimp with blue appendages before, but I would definitely suck the guts out of their heads!

    I can only imagine what was found on those shrimp farms in other countries:| I'll have to be more selective now when buying my shrimp.

  7. As this prawn was cooking in the pot, I realized the peppercorns in the pot were identical to the eyeballs!! That's when I drew the line! No prawn for me! I may be eating an eyeball instead of a peppercorn! No sucking heads for me either, I only suck the marrow out of an osso bucco! YUM!

  8. I've seen this one at the market! All shrimps and prawns are mostly sold with the heads on here…and yes, sucking the "brains" out is the best! 🙂 We just had prawns last night…mmm! I can imagine how good they would be the "adobo sa gata" way…next time definitely doing that 🙂

  9. Brine your shrimp!!!! Just 30 minutes does wonders for texture of shrimp. Also, to avoid overcooking, they should always be the last ingredient. In many dishes, I cook the shrimp seperately and add them before serving. Shrimp do not assume the flavor of the broth/sauce they are cooked in – they have their own taste. The ingredients of the dish can mask or accentuate the shrimps flavor, but not change it. Shrimp are fully cooked as soon as they are pink and curl – anything further and you risk chewy, tasteless prawn.

  10. Wow, you are very brave! I've never seen that kind of shrimp before.

    Hahaha, I guess I am barbaric, I like to eat the head too, it's very tasty 🙂

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