Cooking with Mark

JERK PRAWNS WITH MELON, AVOCADO & MINT SALAD

Add a new twist to prawn cocktail with the right seasoning and accompaniment

Last week I read online that Marks & Spencer had launched what they claim to be its ‘Best Ever’ prawn cocktail sandwich. It was described as bursting with ‘Atlantic cold-water prawns and meaty Honduran warm-water prawns’, along with a new sauce recipe. They first introduced the pre-packaged sandwich in 1980, then soon after introduced prawn cocktail to their range, which became a bestseller.
The debate led a popular UK news website to conduct a very scientific experiment. What is the best prawn sandwich? The test involved a selection of store-bought sandwiches being rated on taste, weight, cost and prawn content (obviously it was a very slow news day). However, they did go as far as to bathe each prawn to remove the dressing before the all-important weigh-in. I guess sort of like removing your shoes before jumping on the scales?
Results were varied, some sandwiches had as many as 44 prawns, others a stingy 19. This is the information people need to know. The prawn has been the butt of so many jokes; dated, bland, often served as a starter at ‘chic’ 1970s soirees.
I remember my mum combining mayo and ketchup, piling frozen prawns over crisp iceberg lettuce, dolloping her ‘Thousand Island dressing’ on top and serving it in her best glassware, with a slice of lemon. Across the region here it seems the ‘crustacean sensation’ is making somewhat of a comeback. Recently, I was at a steak restaurant, and the first thing I saw on the starter menu was a prawn cocktail. The prawn has had a serious makeover, plated with avocado, shallots, mango, and fresh herbs, topped with hot Sriracha sauce, made from chilli peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt – ketchup is so last season. And of course finished off with micro greens, not a sliver of iceberg in sight.

I REMEMBER MY MUM COMBINING MAYO AND KETCHUP, PILING FROZEN PRAWNS OVER CRISP ICEBERG LETTUCE, DOLLOPING HER ‘THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING’ ON TOP AND SERVING IT IN HER BEST GLASSWARE

I welcome back the prawn, but I think it has a lot to prove. Who can forgive prawn cocktails crisps, Thousand Island dressing in a bottle, or the prawn ring? A party piece sold by a UK frozen food chain, it was advertised as the ‘centrepiece to any celebration’ – in reality, a ring of soggy prawns sat around a sweet vinegary bland sauce, but people loved them, and they regularly sold out.
So how can I combine prawns in a starter? My first job was to find some quality prawns, I shied away from the frozen ones, there’re tasteless and end up mushy (also check if the prawns labelled fresh have previously been frozen). Luckily I have a great local fish store that sells fresh meaty prawns. I’m never going to reinvent the ‘prawn ring’, but by adding a few of my favourite ingredients like jerk seasoning, grilled prawns and a fresh salad was my plan. Jerk seasoning is a dry preparation you can buy in most stores or online. The main ingredient of the Jamaican spice is allspice (ground pimento seeds), scotch bonnet, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, ginger and garlic. It can be made fresh as a wet marinade, but for this recipe, I’ve used a dry version. It’s a great sharing platter, easy to prepare, and 1,000 times chic-er than a prawn cocktail any day!

Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield

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