How to Cook Prawns like a Pro

How to Cook Prawns like a Pro

As enthusiastic promoters of Portuguese specialities ourselves, we know that no matter how many juicy and tender trinchados we turn out, and no matter how exquisitely prepared our various peri-peri dishes are, nothing fires up an appetite for Portuguese cuisine quite the way that seafood does.

Much like the Greeks and Italians (both ancient and modern), the geography of Europe means that the Portuguese have a long-standing and passionate love affair with the sea. Their regional diets are packed with seafood in every form, whether it’s the famous salted codfish Portuguese specialty known as Bacalhau, or a bubbling pan of Cataplana (another Portuguese specialty of mixed seafood and Linguica sausage in a tomato and white wine sauce).

The undisputed king of Portuguese specialities, however, are prawns, and the tastes of our customers over the decades prove it time and time again! So what has made prawns the king of the Pigalle table? It’s all in the preparation. While prawns are nowadays widely available, many home cooks would prefer to leave this delicious aspect of Portuguese cuisine to the experts, and avoid preparing them at home as though they were the most difficult thing in the world to work with! We’re here to bust the myth wide open, and to provide you with a prawn preparation guide that will have you rushing out to your local fishmonger so you can try them out in your own kitchen!

We love prawns for their naturally sweet, meaty flavour, their versatility and the speed with which they can be prepared. In the world of meat, prawns are probably the fastest-cooking option you could choose, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be easily ruined! Follow our buying, cleaning and prep advice and your prawns will be the tastiest and most tender they’ve ever been!




Fresh prawns are extremely perishable, and start to degrade as soon as they are dead. Get in touch with your fishmonger and ask which days they receive fresh shipments of prawns, and aim to get them just as they come in. This may be a bit harder in Johannesburg than it is in coastal areas, but a good rapport with your local fishmonger will still get you the freshest available. It is always preferable to buy frozen prawns (with the shells still on) if you get a whiff of ammonia from the fresh ones on display. This tell-take odour is a warning that the prawns are past their prime and won’t make for very good eating, even if they don’t make you sick in the process. Frozen seafood is typically flash frozen on the fishing ships, meaning they have had no time to sit in liquid or air and become old, so these are your best bet if absolute freshness is unavailable.


If you do decide to go with frozen prawns, make sure you defrost them in cold water, and not by plunging them into hot water or worse – cooking them from frozen). Ensure they are properly dried first if you plan on frying or grilling them, as excess water will lower the heat of your pan or grill and cause the prawns to leak water and boil instead.

Peeling and Deveining

We’ll admit it – this isn’t the most pleasant task but it is important for an out-of-this-world prawn dish! Make sure you have a sharp pair of scissors and a paring knife to help you get through the shells easily without crushing the tender flesh, and that you remove the vein as well as you possibly can with the tip of the paring knife, to avoid any grit or sand that may still be present in the body of the prawn.


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Overcooked prawns are dry, flavourless and rubbery, and we are willing to bet that overcooking is the number one problem that occurs when cooking prawns at home. As a rule of thumb, a normal sized prawn will require no more than 2 minutes on each side. The flesh should be just firm and white, and should be juicy when you bite into it. Generally, if the prawn is floppy and straight, it is undercooked. When curled into a C-shape, they’re just about done, and if they curl even further, into an O-shape, they’re past the point of no return.

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