Hot and spicy butterflied tiger prawns need only a minute on a hot pan, grill or griddle. Butterflying prawns makes them look so good – and there’s no messing with heads and shells.
What is butterflying?
Butterflying in cookery lingo means slicing a thick chunk of meat or fish horizontally, but not through so you can open it up like a book. Frankly it sounds a bit idiotic – can’t they just cut it through and cook as two pieces, or slice the thing thinner to start off with?
Why butterfly anything?
I’m guessing it’s a restaurant thing: imagine if they did serve two separate steaks to match the regulation weight, when the beef comes too narrow. Everybody would want two! The punters would start complaining if they were dished out a single steak, no matter how enormous, because hey! a mate here got TWO! Twice as many!
Butterfly or spatchcock?
After steaks, poultry is the next most often butterflied meat – except it’s called ‘spatchcock’ then. Pretty much the same exercise except the bird has breastbone removed and is skewered with a wooden stick in order to stay flat. The technique is handy when barbecuing poultry, especially small birds like quail or poussin, as the risk of uneven cooking is minimised.
Similarly, a de-boned portion of meat like a leg of lamb or pork rump can be butterflied to ensure even cooking except, super confusingly, that sometimes means rolling and tying it up into a shapely roasting joint.
And then we have prawns: butterflied in or out of shell, with the heads on or off. It has hardly the purpose of even cooking; especially smaller butterflied shrimp will take a blink of an eye in the hot pan before turning tough and rubbery. It is more to allow the marinade, seasoning and spicing to penetrate otherwise blandish seafood.
How to butterfly prawns?
Butterflying is not at all difficult – just like with a steak or a pork chop the trick is to cut deep but not through, so you can open the prawn like a butterfly’s wings. The easiest method is to lob off the head, trim off the legs, snip through the shell on the back with scissors and follow that cut with a knife – just not to the end.
Then the wonderful Ottolenghi’s marinade, with fragrant fenugreek, sunny yellow turmeric and the heat of cayenne can permeate through and under the shrimp shell.