Eats, Recipes
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Tale of two prawns: Steamed Garlic Prawns & Super Tasty Grilled Prawns

A thing or two about prawns

Prawns in New Zealand are imported raw as we have no prawn fishery. They are snap frozen at sea and can be easily thawed at home, so never buy thawed prawns because you don’t know how long they have been thawed for. Maybe it’s only been a couple of hours, but maybe it’s longer. Why risk it? If they’re snap frozen at sea and you thaw them just prior to cooking, they will be as fresh as possible.

Prawn size and weight

If you have bought prawns before, you may have noticed a special numbering system in place. It seems counter-intuitive, but the smaller the number, the larger the prawn. Less is more! Well, less is big. U10 or U20 means under 10 or 20 prawns per kilo. These are the biggest prawns and also the most expensive.

Handy guide to prawn sizes (per kilo)

Extra large 10/20 also displayed as U10 or U20
Under 10 and Under 20 prawns per kilo

Large 21/30
Under 30 prawns per kilo

Medium 31/40
Under 40 prawns per kilo

Small 41+
More than 41 prawns per kilo

The numbering varies depending on the size of the prawns, so just use these number to get an idea of the size of prawns you are getting. Knowing the number of prawns can be helpful if you are allocating a certain number of prawns per person.

Steamed Garlic Prawns at Canton Cafe

Canton Cafe is one of my all time favourite restaurants and The Koala and I adore a deep fried dish each. My favourite is the salt and pepper hapuka, and his is the sweet and sour pork. We find it super hard to branch out from these, but then I saw Nessie at Baking = Love announce her love for their steamed garlic prawns. Her words were: “my most favouritest seafood dish in the entire world”,  so I had to taste them for myself. Read her post here (includes samples of food porn).

My family had a large table upstairs at Canton Cafe for the Moon Festival. We ate lots of things. We tried the prawns. After we ate these prawns, I dreamed about them too.

Prawn 2 ways

Surely I thought, this simple dish could be recreated at home. I set about plotting my own version. I’ve had about a kilo of Australian Banana Prawns from NZ Seafoods waiting in the freezer for a few weeks and some prawn recipes I wanted to recreate. Banana Prawns are also known as Indian prawns and are one of the larger prawns available here. They are quite meaty with a delicate, sweet flavour and firm flesh that holds its shape well when cooked.

Not content to miss out on a chance to experiment, we had prawns 2 ways for dinner. I couldn’t choose which recipe is better. They were both so good. Even the Koala found it hard to pick. Maybe a slight lean towards the second grilled recipe because of the bolder flavours. Because of this, it’s also more likely to please a crowd.

A tasty starter.

Steamed Garlic Prawns

I made these as a tasty starter for two, but you can easily modify this recipe for more.

6 large prawns, thawed
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chopped spring onion


  1. Add about half a cup to a cup of water to the bottom of your steam so that it is ready to go.
  2. Using a sharp knife and a healthy respect for your fingers, cut each prawn in half lengthwise, starting from the back (their spine if they had one). Remove the vein and arrange the prawn halves in a snug layer in your steamer.
  3. Finely chop the garlic and in a small bowl, mix all the other ingredients except for the spring onion.
  4. Divide the mixture over the prawns.
  5. Cover and steam prawns for 5-10 minutes until done.
  6. Serve with a sprinkle of spring onion.
  7. Enjoy with fingers and napkins.

The main course

The other prawn dish I wanted to do was basically grilled or bbq with butter, garlic and tomato paste. De-veining the prawns is fiddly, but the rest of this recipe is so easy, that it is forgiven. For this dish you need a super hot pan or a BBQ. We had these with steamed brocauliflower and kumara mash but this would go just as well with a coleslaw and chunky chips.

Bold flavours.

Super Tasty Grilled Prawns

Dinner for two

16 large prawns, thawed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped


  1. Using a sharp knife and a healthy respect for your fingers, make a cut along the back of each prawn from just below the head to the tail. Do not cut all the way through the prawn. Remove the vein.
  2. Melt the butter in a hot pan and quickly add the garlic, prawns and tomato paste in 1 layer in the pan. Stir so that all prawns are evenly coated.
  3. Keep cooking turning once or twice until prawns are cooked. The sauce will start to caramaelise and transform into the most amazing flavour.
  4. Enjoy with fingers and napkins.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Auckland Seafood Festival 2012

Buttery golden pan-fried flounder

Prepare Ika Mata (Cook Islands raw fish salad)

Summer rolls with surimi and nectarine

Whitianga Scallops


  1. trixfred30 says

    Glad to know you call them prawns and not shrimp. In the UK we have two sizes – big (which aren’t) and miniscule (the size of plankton i think)

    • Bunny Eats Design says

      I think prawn and shrimp are used interchangeably around the world, but the difference isn’t found by size, but in the gill structure.

      It’s not right, but I always thought that shrimp were the little ones and prawn were the big ones. Not scientific at all and completely incorrect.

  2. LOVE this post – I’m in love with prawns but I don’t get to eat them very often. It;s one of the reasons I love going to Madrid every year.

    • Bunny Eats Design says

      I’ve never been to Madrid, but it sounds like my kind of place 🙂

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