Spot Prawn Festival

The weather did not stop Vancouverites from coming together to celebrate the opening of BC Spot Prawn season at the 11th Annual Spot Prawn Festival. Held annually at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island, this is a festival that is not to be missed! Not only can you taste the first BC Spot Prawns of the season at the Spot Prawn Boil, you can purchase these sweet and succulent prawns that have just hauled up from the ocean from the fishermen who caught them right off their boats. You can’t get much fresher prawns than that!

Now, spot prawns are some creepy little buggers, but they are incredibly delicious and are one of the prized delicacies of the sea in BC. From looking at them, you can tell they are spot prawns from their white spots on their tail and their thin white stripes on their shells. They are also quite large in size- actually the largest from all prawns from the BC coast. In terms of taste, spot prawns are definitely sweeter than other prawns and have a nice firm texture when cooked.

Typically, BC spot prawn season kicks off at the beginning of May and lasts from about six to eight weeks. They are caught in traps (similar to crab traps, just with a smaller opening) that are baited with food and hooked along a line. It is the utmost importance to the spot prawn fishermen that these stocks are sustainably harvested. Population levels are closely monitored, only a certain number of traps are deployed, and females with eggs attached to them are returned back to the ocean. Because of these precautions taken around these tasty prawns, they are part of a sustainable fishery and have been recognized by various organizations such as Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program and Seachoice to be a great option.

See his white spots?!

Now that you know a bit more about BC Spot Prawns, you can definitely appreciate why the BC Spot Prawn Festival exists. This year was my first time attending the BC Spot Prawn Festival and I know I will be visiting for years to come based on the awesome time I had! Let me tell you a bit about it.

We* arrived at the Spot Prawn Festival at one o’clock in the afternoon, just in time for our entrance into the Spot Prawn Boil. To attend the Boil, you have to purchase a ticket from the event website in advance. Tickets are sold within certain time slots so as to ensure that everyone doesn’t show up at once, plus the chefs need to know how many spot prawns they need for the day. This year, the tickets were $19.75 each and all proceeds went to the organizing agency, the Chef’s Table Society of British Columbia. With our ticket, we got a delicious plate of three BC spot prawns plus a selection of side dishes and bread. Let me tell you, it’s definitely worth it.

*We= me and my photography-loving but “semi-allergic to seafood” boyfriend

Literally heaven on a plate!

This year’s side dishes included chickpea and lentil salad from Grain, freshly picked tomatoes and salad from Windset Farms, and bread from Terra Breads. I got incredibly excited when I saw that Chef Chris Whittaker from the highly acclaimed restaurant, Forage, was dishing out the salad to festival goers. I literally almost dropped my food when I realized that he just put salad on my plate. I’m really not good at meeting or interacting with celebrities! As per usual, I didn’t say anything to him… meanwhile I was dying on the inside 😛

Tomatoes and cucumber from Windset Farms, lentil and chickpea salad from Grain and juicy BC spot prawns!

After finding a place to eat on the docks, we dove into our plates. The spot prawns were still nice and warm and were so juicy and sweet. I was lucky enough to get to eat five of them (two given to me from my boyfriend after he tried one and had a minor allergic reaction). It was nothing a bit of Benadryl and some wine (from other festival vendors) couldn’t fix! The side dishes were equally delicious- the chickpea and lentil salad was very nutty, the tomatoes and salad were just bursting with flavour and the bread was nice and soft…great for soaking up the juices from the spot prawns!

The aftermath…

After we finished our plates (and made sure the Benadryl was kicking in) we headed over to the food vendors that were there. We tasted excellent coffee from Mogiana Coffee (their Espresso Roast is to die for!), a cream ale from R&B Brewing and some  Merlot from Evolve Cellars…whom I was super impressed with!

A selection of Mogiana Coffee for sale

Sampling the cream ale from R&B Brewing

A selection of chilled wines from Evolve Cellars

After enjoying our beverages and watching a quick cooking demo, we made our way to the docks to pick up some spot prawns. This year, they were selling the spot prawns for $20/pound. Unfortunately, by the time we made our way down to the dock, all the fishermen had completely sold out of spot prawns. Luckily, The Lobster Man (on Granville Island) still had a few spot prawns left that day and we were able to snag 10 spot prawns for dinner (at a slightly higher price of $24/pound). Hey, I guess that’s what you get for waiting until 2 in the afternoon to get some prawns! Of course, you can purchase live spot prawns off the docks at Fisherman’s Wharf for the remainder of the spot prawn season. The boats come in between 12-2 in the afternoon and accept cash only.

Live spot prawns from The Lobster Man! 

When buying live spot prawns there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, make sure that they are moving so that you know they are fresh and healthy. If you are brave enough to pick up a live spot prawn, give the prawn’s body a light squeeze- if it feels firm, then it’s fresh. Also, take a look to ensure that there are no dark spots on the prawns and give them a quick sniff to make sure that they smell like the sea. If they smell fishy then they are not fresh, so avoid buying them. When buying them from the fisherman or from a store, ask them to give you a bag of ice to keep them cool on your way home to avoid spoiling. And of course, it is always best when buying live spot prawns (or any live seafood for that matter) to eat it the day you buy it, this way it won’t deteriorate in quality and you will avoid getting sick.

When you get home with your live spot prawns, place them in the fridge on a bag of ice to keep them cool until you are ready to prepare them. Keep them in the bag so that they don’t end up crawling all over the inside of your fridge!

There are many ways to prepare spot prawns. The easiest way to prepare them is to boil them whole. Just simply bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the live spot prawns (like if you were cooking a lobster), and let them boil away for a few minutes until they turn bright pink. Once they’re cooked through, you can serve them warm (just like at the Spot Prawn Boil) or you can cool them down under running cold water and store them in the fridge (if you are making a cold salad or want to serve them cocktail-style)…just remember to eat them the same day. Once they are cooled, you can take off the heads and peel the shell and legs off and you will be good to go.

You can also steam, sauté or grill the spot prawns whole as well. When coming up with my recipe for Grilled Lemongrass Spot Prawns I opted to just grill only the tails rather than grilling them whole (I was trying to be a bit more humane and not let them suffer on a hot grill).  To prepare the spot prawn tails you have to be willing to be hardcore. In other words, you have to be comfortable ripping off the heads of the spot prawns while they are still alive. I couldn’t bring myself to do this…so I got my boyfriend to prepare them for me (I’m so weak). Basically, you want to grab the head and body of the prawn with your thumb and index fingers simultaneously and in one fell swoop, firmly pinch and pull them apart. Luckily, it’s an instant death for the prawn which is good, but it’s still kind of creepy to see their little legs moving after they’ve been beheaded (from the enzyme adenosine triphosphate, or more commonly known as ATP). I waited about 5 minutes for all the legs to stop moving before peeling the legs and shell off, making sure to keep the tail still on. From there I marinated my spot prawns, then skewered, grilled them up and devoured them in seconds.

What is your favourite way to cook spot prawns? And what flavour combos do you like? I’m inkling to try a Cajun-style spot prawn (boiled whole) and a chilled spot prawn salad with creamy avocado and cucumber! Comment down below and check out my recipe for Grilled Lemongrass Spot Prawns!

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