The California spot prawn is unusually large, meaty and sweet, which is why it has become such a chef's favorite. David LeFevre isn't afraid to prepare these big prawns with a vibrant Thai marinade and serve them with an array of distinctive accompaniments: minty melon, lime-mashed avocado and cool, creamy cucumber-yogurt sauce. If California spot prawns aren't available, substitute white shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico or just plain, large shrimp.
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3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 kaffir lime leaves or 1-inch-wide strips of lime zest
1 stalk of lemongrass, bottom 6 inches only, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
16 large California spot prawns or shrimp (about 1 pound), shelled and deveined
1/2 medium seedless cucumber, peeled and coarsely shredded
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
3 tablespoons very finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Charentais melon or 1/2 cantaloupe, rind removed, melon sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 Hass avocados
3 tablespoons minced red onion
1/2 teaspoon minced hot chile
How to Make It
In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the lime juice with the grapeseed oil, brown sugar, lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and fish sauce. Add the shrimp and toss, then refrigerate for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, squeeze the cucumber to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer to a small bowl and add the yogurt, shallot, coriander, cayenne, half of the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of the mint, 1 tablespoon of the cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon of the lime zest. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for 1 hour.
In a medium bowl, toss the melon slices with 1/2 tablespoon of the lime juice and the remaining 1 tablespoon of mint and 1/2 teaspoon of lime zest; season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until chilled.
In another medium bowl, mash the avocados with the onion, chile and the remaining garlic, 1 tablespoon of lime juice and 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat a grill. Drain the shrimp well. Grill over high heat, turning once, until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a platter and serve with the yogurt sauce, melon and avocado puree.
A white with plenty of crisp acidity, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, will point up both the sweet and sour flavors of these prawns. The best usually come from cool regions like the Santa Ynez Valley (in Santa Barbara County), where the Pacific breezes blow steadily through the vines, producing vibrant wines.
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