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Last week I read online that Marks & Spencer had launched what they claim to be its ‘best ever’ prawn cocktail sandwich. It was described as bursting with “Atlantic cold-water prawns and meaty Honduran warm-water prawns”, along with a new sauce recipe. They first introduced the pre-packaged sandwich in 1980, and soon after introduced prawn cocktail to their range, which became a bestseller.

The debate led a popular UK news website to conduct a very scientific experiment. What is the best prawn sandwich? The test involved a selection of store-bought sandwiches being rated on taste, weight, cost and prawn content (obviously it was a very slow news day). However, they did go as far as to bathe each prawn to remove the dressing before the all-important weigh-in. I guess sort of like removing your shoes before jumping on the scales?

Results were varied; some sandwiches had as many as 44 prawns, others a stingy 19. This is the information people need to know. The prawn has been the butt of so many jokes; dated, bland, often served as a starter at ‘chic’ 1970s soirees.

I remember my mum combining mayo and ketchup, piling frozen prawns over crisp iceberg lettuce, dolloping her ‘Thousand Island dressing’ on top and serving it in her best glassware, with a slice of lemon. Across the region here it seems the ‘crustacean sensation’ is making somewhat of a comeback. Recently, I was at a steak restaurant, and the first thing I saw on the starter menu was a prawn cocktail. The prawn has had a serious makeover, plated with avocado, shallots, mango, and fresh herbs, topped with hot Sriracha sauce, made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt — ketchup is so last season. And of course finished off with micro greens, not a sliver of iceberg in sight.

I welcome back the prawn, but I think it has a lot to prove. Who can forgive prawn cocktails crisps, Thousand Island dressing in a bottle, or the prawn ring? A party piece sold by a UK frozen food chain, it was advertised as the ‘centrepiece to any celebration’ — in reality, a ring of soggy prawns sat around a sweet vinegary bland sauce, but people loved them, and they regularly sold out.

So how can I combine prawns in a starter? My first job was to find some quality prawns. I shied away from the frozen ones, there’re tasteless and end up mushy (also check if the prawns labelled fresh have previously been frozen). Luckily I have a great local fish store that sells fresh, meaty prawns. I’m never going to reinvent the ‘prawn ring’, but by adding a few of my favourite ingredients like jerk seasoning, grilled prawns and a fresh salad was my plan.

Jerk seasoning is a dry preparation you can buy in most stores or online. The main ingredient of the Jamaican spice is allspice (ground pimento seeds), scotch bonnet, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, ginger and garlic. It can be made fresh as a wet marinade, but for this recipe I’ve used a dry version. It’s a great sharing platter, easy to prepare, and 1,000 times chic-er than a prawn cocktail any day.

 

JERK KING PRAWNS WITH MELON, AVOCADO & MINT SALAD

Serves 2, prep time 20 minutes, cooking time 10-15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PRAWNS

■  2 tbsp of vegetable oil
■  6 wooden skewers
■  30 king prawns, peeled and washed
■  3 tsp of dry Jamaican jerk seasoning (You can get this is most major stores or online)
■  1 tsp of cayenne pepper

FOR THE SALAD

■  220g of melon cubed
■  1 ripe avocado (use mini melon baller scoop out)
■  1 pomegranate seeded (keeping some to serve)
■  1/2 red onion thinly sliced
■  A handful of fresh mint leaves
■  1 lime to serve
■  Juice of a lime

METHOD

Presoak the skewers in cold water for 10 minutes (this so they don’t burn in the griddle pan or on the BBQ). Push the prawns onto the skewers, five on each. Lay on a serving tray, coat with the dry seasoning, cover and chill for an hour.

Meanwhile, combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl, squeeze over the lime and chill. To cook the prawns: Heat the oil on medium heat in a griddle pan, or on BBQ on a medium heat; grill the skewers on both sides until the prawns are firm.

Meanwhile, plate up the salad on a large serving dish. Place the skewers on top, scatter over the mint leaves, onion and pomegranate seeds, serve with lime wedges.

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Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield, follow him on Instagram @gasmarksix.

 

YOU ASK, MARK SERVES THE ANSWER

What’s the difference between white and brown eggs? And how do you know if an egg is fresh?

There is no difference, white feathered chickens lay white eggs and brown feathered brown. To check the freshness of an eggs fill a bowl with water, a fresh egg will sink to the bottom, lying on its long side. A not so fresh egg will stand on end in the bowl of water. Bad eggs will float.

— Have a question for Mark? Write to tabloid@gulfnews.com with the subject ‘Cooking With Mark’.