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Hot butterflied prawns

Mon, 2 September, 2019

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.

hot and spicy butterflied prawns

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!

butterflied fried shrimp

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.

Butterflying prawns

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.

spicy butterflied king prawns

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.

how to butterfly prawns

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.

Hot butterflied prawns

Servings: 2-4, side or main dishTime: 30 minutes
Rating: (1 reviews)


  • 12 fresh king prawns, shell on
  • groundnut oil, for frying
  • lime or lemon, to serve
  • For the marinade:
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp coarse or flaked salt
  • 2 tsp ground fenugreek seeds
  • 1½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1½ tsp caster sugar
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil


1. To butterfly the prawns, first cut off the heads. Using kitchen scissors cut off the legs, then cut down through the shell along the back but don’t remove it. Using a sharp knife cut along the line you made with the scissors but don’t split them. Remove the vein (intestinal tract) and flatten each prawn on the chopping board shell side up.

2. To make the marinade, smash the garlic with the salt in a pestle and mortar to a paste. Mix with all the other ingredients until smooth. Spread the marinade over the flesh side of the prawns and leave to marinate for at least an hour and up to overnight, in which case keep them in the fridge.

the best seafood marinade

3. When you’re ready to cook, heat up about 2 tbsp. of the oil in a medium sized pan and have a warm serving dish with a lid ready; you can simply use another pan.

4. Cook the prawns in two or three batches otherwise they’ll be overcooked. Place them in the pan flesh side down, press with a spatula and cook for a minute. Turn them over briefly, transfer to the prepared dish and cover while you cook the remaining prawns.

how to cook butterflied prawns

5. Serve them immediately with lime or lemon on the side.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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