Shellfish pleasures: Mark Hix cooks with prawns

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Whether fresh or frozen, prawns are among the most versatile seafood

Prawns must be one of the most adaptable of all shellfish and I always like to keep some at hand in the freezer (along with peas) as an emergency stock item as they defrost quickly and can be tossed in a salad or pasta or used to finish off a risotto. There's no shame whatever in cooking with frozen prawns and peas and I very much doubt even the most sophisticated palate would be able to tell the difference between fresh and frozen.

I have recently been working a bit with Birds Eye and their sustainable emperor prawns. These salt water emperor prawns are cooked within two hours of being caught so they are as high-quality as you get with fresh market prawns.

Tortillas with guacamole prawns and chilli salsa

Makes 20

If you use large shop-bought tortillas or even Turkish flatbread and cut them down into little squares, circles or triangles, you can turn them into little bases that are perfect for Mexican, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean canapés.

A piece of tortilla or flatbread large enough to cut 20 x 2cm squares, circles or triangles
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
Half a ripe avocado
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and a good pinch of cayenne pepper
20 emperor prawns, defrosted, or fresh Red Sea prawns

For the chilli salsa

tbsp olive oil
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 medium-sized chilli, finely chopped
A pinch of pimento or paprika
A few sprigs of coriander, finely chopped, plus a few sprigs to garnish

Cut the tortilla into 20 squares, circles or triangles plus a few extras. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and then cook the tortillas on a medium heat for 30 seconds or so on each side until crisp, then remove from the pan and drain on some kitchen paper.

To make the salsa, heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the spring onion and chilli for 30 seconds; remove from the heat, transfer to a small bowl, leave to cool a little and then add the coriander and the pimento or paprika. Mash the avocado up with the lemon, cayenne and salt.

To serve, halve the prawns lengthways, spoon the avocado on to the tortilla, arrange two halves of prawn on top, followed by a little chilli salsa; then finish with a sprig of coriander.

Spaghettini with scampi tails and samphire

Serves 4

Dublin bay prawns or langoustines are great stretched out into a pasta course and for a dish like this you can use peeled frozen scampi tails as they will be more consistent – and cheaper than finding live langoustines and cooking and peeling them.

4 servings of spaghettini
20-24 scampi tails
100g butter
200ml fish stock
100ml white wine
2-3tbsp olive oil
A handful or so of samphire with any woody stalks removed

Cook the spaghettini in boiling salted water according to manufacturer's cooking instructions and then drain in a colander, reserving a little of the water. Melt half of the butter in a frying pan, season and cook the scampi tails for a couple of minutes without colouring them, then remove from the pan.

Add the fish stock and wine to the pan and boil until it has reduced down to a couple of tablespoons, then add the samphire, the rest of the butter and the olive oil.

Stir on a low heat for a minute, then add the scampi and pasta, season to taste and add a little of the cooking water and more olive oil if the pasta is a bit dry. Serve immediately.

Vietnamese prawn salad

Serves 4

I just love the freshness of Vietnamese herbs and the way they are traditionally used in simple salads. My friend Hieu has recently opened a new branch of his restaurant Cay Tre in the heart of Soho – and he always has a great selection of salads on his menu with these delicious fragrant raw herbs – which, for me, is what makes Vietnamese food unique.

A couple of handfuls of Vietnamese herbs, washed (sawtooth, parilla, coriander, Thai basil, knotweed etc)

1 small carrot, peeled, thinly sliced and shredded into matchstick-like pieces
6 spring onions, thinly sliced on the angle
8 mangetout, finely shredded
24 or so emperor prawns, or Red Sea prawns

For the dressing

1tbsp fish sauce
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2tsp caster sugar
1tbsp black rice vinegar
30g ginger or galangal, finely grated
The juice of 1 lime

First, mix all of the ingredients together for the dressing and leave to stand for an hour. Toss the herbs with the carrot, spring onion, mangetout and prawns and season. Arrange on plates and serve.

Brown shrimp patties with fried quails' eggs

Makes 12 little snacks

Brown shrimps are a unique shellfish that have many uses beyond potted shrimps.

100g peeled brown shrimps
3tbsp chopped chives
2tbsp Dove's Farm gluten-free self-raising flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cold water to mix
12 quails' eggs
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

Put the shrimps and chives in a bowl with the flour and add enough water to make a fairly stiff batter; season well. Test a teaspoonful by heating a little oil

in a frying pan and dropping the mixture in to make a flat pattie, fry for a minute or so on each side until crisp, then test the seasoning and re-season and adjust the consistency if necessary.

Cook 12 flat patties as above using a dessert spoon and get them as crisp as possible.

To cook the quails' eggs, crack them into little pots, gently heat the oil in a preferably non-stick frying pan, carefully tip them into the pan and cook them on a low heat until just set. Serve an egg on each pattie.

Mark Hix was recently awarded the Evelyn Rose Award for Cookery Journalist of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers

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