Patrick Stuart gets under the shell of the scarlet prawn, a prized crustacean caught locally off the Portuguese coast
The deep waters off our coastline are home to a vast array of delicacies, but it’s a fact that the majority of prawns served in Algarve restaurants are imported deep-frozen from the Indian Ocean.
There are, however, numerous species of prawn living in these waters and when visiting any municipal market we can usually find at least some fresh local gambas da costa (small coastal prawns).
One species however stands out from the rest for its unique flavour, texture and appearance – the carabineiro (scarlet prawn).
Harvested as a by-catch by deep water fishing vessels, the carabineiro caught in these waters usually measures between 15 and 20cm in length, but can grow to considerably larger sizes.
The very same species can be found in deep oceanic waters off the south coast of Australia and there they are often caught measuring 35cm or more – a veritable feast!
It is the delicate texture of the translucent flesh that places scarlet prawns in a class of their own once on the plate. Tasting more like lobster than prawn but with a far superior texture, they also have a deliciously rich brown meat in the head.
Cooked to perfection on the grill they are a delectable treat and although similar in cost to lobster are considered by many to be more worthy of the price tag and I for one would agree without hesitation.
If you can find them in the market and choose to cook them at home, the most important tip is to take great care not to overcook the flesh. A few extra seconds can ruin the delicate texture.
Sliced open down the middle and basted with a little garlic and olive oil and a touch of salt or alternatively butter, garlic and black pepper, they need only be on the grill long enough for the translucent meat to turn white. Depending on the heat of your grill or barbecue, this should take no more than a couple of minutes.
Better still, leave it to the experts – beach restaurants that usually have Carabineiros on the menu are Arte Náutica on Armação de Pêra beach (282 314 875), Rei das Praias (282 461 006) on Caneiros beach, near Ferragudo, and 2 Passos (289 396 435) on Ancão beach, near Almancil.