Tiny school prawns are in peak supply on the east coast of Australia in the warmer months, from October through to about April. For adults, these are great sprinkled with dried chilli flakes to go with a cold beer. For children, they’re moreish, crunchy, salty little things with the fascinating lure of a creature-eaten-whole food.
500g raw school prawns
Tapioca flour, for dusting
500ml rice bran or vegetable oil
Pinch of mild chilli flakes (optional)
2 tbsp chopped herbs such as parsley or coriander
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Elyse (pictured), aged seven, stands on tippy toes and looks into the bag, worst fears confirmed. “Eat those whole⁄ Shell and heads and everything⁄” she asks, waiting for the joke to be revealed. Though the heads can indeed be left on and eaten in this recipe, Elyse negotiates an “off-with-their-heads” scenario for her version. Adult supervision is a must here because of the hot oil, so Elyse’s main task is the fun but gruesome head removal, the satisfying prawn dusting and, importantly, the eating of these crunchy morsels from the sea.
Remove and discard prawn heads, leaving on the legs, tails and soft shell. Put the tapioca flour and prawns in a plastic bag with no holes in it and shake gently to coat prawns. Heat about 200 millilitres of the oil in a wok over a high heat and test the heat by gently placing one prawn in the oil. It should bubble and spit immediately. Add about 10 prawns and cook until pale brown, then remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and place on kitchen paper. Repeat with remaining prawns, topping up oil and heating to the right temperature as needed. Transfer prawns to a bowl and sprinkle with chilli flakes, if using, chopped herbs and sea salt. Arrange wedges of lemon around the bowl and serve.