These Prawns Have A Shell of a Flavor…

Prawn ShellShell of a flavor… get it?

I loved the headline so much that I clipped this recipe from the Boston Globe, sometime around 1980. And good for me… though I don’t cook it often, it is one of my favorites.

In this dish, the shells of the Prawns flavor a stock that is used for cooking couscous to serve with the prawns. An extra dollop of stock sends more flavor back to the Prawns as they cook.

So what if you can only find Shrimp in your market? Use the Shrimp. Technically, they’re different critters, but commercially, the terms are used interchangably. Some think Prawns looks more classy on a menu or in a recipe.

This “trick” can work with lobster, as well, using the shells to make a broth or sauce. In fact, the poached fish dish that I posted earlier, essentially uses the fish juices to help the sauce.

Tom Colicchio, in his fantastic book, Think Like a Chef, includes a few lobster dishes that take about half-a-day to cook—sometimes I like to do that. He too, uses the shell-for-stock/sauce principle.

As long as we’ve slipped sideways onto the subject of lobsters, I have a small story about Julia Child and lobsters and me. Julia Child and More Company [along with Julia Child and Company], is another broken-back, food stained book in my library. This was a companion book to her TV show in the late 70’s when I was really into cooking for company. Her show featuring Lobster Souffle with Sauce Americaine inspired me to look back to Mastering the Art of French Cooking V1 for her original Homard a l’Americaine. This, I was preparing to make one Saturday morning. In her preface to the recipe, she notes, “If you object to steaming or splitting a live lobster, it can be killed almost instantly… if you plunge the point of a knife into the head between the eyes…” Yeah, right. I did that. The lobster waved its arms and squirmed a bit, but then settled down. “Split the lobsters in two lengthwise…” I took my big knife and starting at the tail, pressed down. HOLY MOLY! The lobster jumped and I jumped the other way! Son Eric retreived the lobster and held it down while I completed the splitting.
Prawn Shell
In any case, she doesn’t make her stock on-the-fly, but uses her shells in another way, “…you will want the end section of the tail, the front part of the chest and the claws for shell decoration.” The dish, by the way, is excellent.

That was surely a long digression, but it is one of those indelible stories which form my cooking life. I’ve long since been able to split a lobster for grilling or pull it apart for pan roasting. As for the killing, Tom Colicchio’s method of dunking them in boiling water for a minute and then cooling under cold running water always works.

Although this recipe is easy, it is not fast. You have to peel the prawns and then cook the shells for 15 minutes. I started about 7:00 and had dinner on the table at 8:15. But by gosh, it sure is good. Not only that, cooking the shells with their vegetables lends a sweet bouquet to the kitchen, an appetizer for the senses.

Prawns with Couscous
Adapted from In the Kitchen with Harvey Steiman, which appeared in the Boston Globe ca. 1980.2# prawns, unpeeled
salt and pepper

for the stock
1 small onion, quartered
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 rib celery, quartered
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 t ground cumin
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
save the peel

1 box couscous (6 servings)
1 t butter
1/2 t salt
1T oil

Peel the prawns, put in a bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Put the prawn shells in a saucepan with the onion, garlic, celery, cinnamon, cumin and tomato peels. [As long as you’re at it, when you seed the tomatoes, do it over the saucepan.] Add enough water to cover everything and bring the pot to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, covered. Strain. Reserve 1/4C of the stock and measure the rest, you will need 2 1/4C for the couscous. Make up any difference with water.

Bring the liquid to a boil in the rinsed-out saucepan. Add the diced tomato, couscous, butter and salt. Remove the pan from the heat, cover it and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the prawns until they color on one side, about 1 1/2 min. Turn the prawns, add the reserved 1/4C stock. Cook until done… another minute or two.

Spoon a serving of couscous into a shallow bowl or plate. Arrange the prawns around and drizzle lightly with the liquid in the skillet.

Six servings.


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