I am a city girl.  Raised in Washington, D.C. A bit Northern, a bit Southern.  But definitely a city girl.  My mother was my first cooking teacher.  She knows nearly everything there is to know.  Seriously.  She grew up in New Orleans, and this culinary perspective permeated our home meals and has dramatically influenced my taste in food.  Mom is also a city girl, but was very close to her many many relatives who live in the rural (read: swampy) areas beyond Orleans Parish.  My mom is adventurous.  She is old-fashioned and cutting-edge, classical and alterntive, traditional and iconoclastic.  She is one of the most interesting people I know.  She also enjoys my reports of exotic, innovative, historic, divine or awful food discoveries more than anyone.  She is also my resource of first resort for cooking questions.

What follows is a recent email exchange with mom.  I really love the hell out of her.

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From: ME

To: MOM

This morning at the farmers market they had live prawns!  Live wiggly little shrimp!  They were so freaky.  I saw them selling the last ones.  Next week I will get there EARLY!

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From: MOM

To: ME

“Prawns”  Bless your little “British” Heart.  When we used to catch shrimp, we would eat them as is.  Raw.  Cajun sashimi?  Amazing taste of the sea.  Try one if you manage to catch some at the market next week.

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From: ME

To: MOM

Did you just pop them in your mouth?  YIKES!

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From: MOM

To: ME

We used to peel the raw shrimp if they were big. Sometimes we caught tiny ones and just decapitated them before popping them into our mouths.  Tiny, tiny river shrimp were so sweet and the shells were so soft as to be almost non-existent.

Fifty or sixty years ago, shrimp were so plentiful in Lake Pontchartrain that we would catch them with throw nets from the seawall on Lakeshore Drive only a mile or two from your grandparents house.  We’d go out with their friends Josie and Adolph in the evening, set lanterns on the seawall to attract the shrimp, and catch buckets of them. Mama would pack a picnic supper and we’d have a grand time. The breeze off the Lake kept the Mosquitos from eating us alive – and of course they were still spraying with DDT.

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Last Saturday, my in-laws were in town.  My mother-in-law and I got up early and got to the Notting Hill Farmers Market at 8:30.  None of the stalls are allowed to do any business until 9am but we were already the 4th people in the queue at the Christchurch Fish stall.  By the time the market manager rang the bell, there were another 15 people behind us.  There weren’t many prawns that day, and my heart broke a little as each person ahead of me took some home.  But they lasted just long enough, and we bought the last half kilo.  Unsure of my mother’s “cooking” instructions, I asked the fisherman how to prepare them. “I put them in a pan with a little oil and just fry them up.”  As simple as that.

When lunchtime rolled around, we pulled the shrimp (and cockles and mussels) out of the fridge for a visit.  In case you have never seen a live shrimp (I hadn’t), here is news: they jump.  They can jump out of a colander.  They can jump out of the sink.  But don’t worry.  If your dog is anything like mine, you won’t have to chase them around the kitchen.  She’ll just gobble them up.  And really enjoy it.  Yes, my house is a circus.

Trusting the fishmonger over my mother this time, the shrimp went in a skillet of hot butter (and a lid, just in case they were still jumpy) until they were red and firm.  I finished them with salt and smoked paprika.  We all gathered round the table and ate them with baguette (for sopping up the butter) and loads of napkins.  London meets New Orleans for a beautiful family lunch.

My mom is coming to London for Christmas.  I really hope Christchurch has prawns that weekend.  They were good, but not quite the same without her.

A bonus photo of the stowaways that were tangled up in the mussel beards.  They were live, but too small to eat.

2 Thoughts on “Prawns

  1. I still think about the Thanksgivings I got to indulge in your mom’s food. Stuffing. With oysters! More, please!

  2. I still think about the Thanksgivings I got to indulge in your mom’s food. Stuffing. With oysters! More, please!

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