Gambas da Costa

An affordable local delicacy
These local prawns caught off the Algarve coast are surprisingly difficult to find. Apart from specialised seafood restaurants, such as O Rui in Silves, I have never seen them on a menu and they can only be bought at fish markets.
Supermarket prawns are invariably frozen and often farmed as far away as Thailand or India.
In our local waters there are three main varieties of prawn, the most coveted and expensive, costing more even than fresh lobster at €70 or more per kilo, is the scarlet prawn (carabineiro).
Another is the striped shell “Camarão de Quarteira” known across the border in Spain as the Sanlucar prawn and usually costing around €30 per kilo.
But the humble gamba da costa at around €16 per kilo (the price last weekend at Armação de Pêra fish market) is less expensive than most varieties of wild frozen prawns and makes for a far superior eating.
The meat is mild in flavour and slightly sweet with a very delicate texture. Traditionally they are eaten simply boiled but care needs to be taken not to overcook them.
Throw into a pot of boiling water and wait until the tails start to curl. Depending upon the quantity being cooked and the volume of water in the pan, 1 to 2 minutes should be sufficient. Strain immediately and run under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Allow to cool then sprinkle with sea salt. But my favourite way to eat them is pan fried in a mixture of olive oil and butter with plenty of lightly crushed whole garlic cloves and perhaps a touch of piri-piri.
Cook in batches (to avoid overcrowding the pan) for just a few minutes until the tails start to curl and the legs (the best bit) go nice and crispy.
Have some nice fresh bread ready to mop up the delicious prawn and garlic flavoured oil.
By PATRICK STUART patrick.stuart@open-media.net