To peel or not to peel, that is the question. But the truth is, whether or not you choose to peel your prawns ultimately boils down to preference and, to a certain extent, the type of dish you’re making. Skin-on prawns can add additional flavour to your dish, while skin-off prawns are more refined when you’re serving guests. It’s also an easy and fuss free option for kids. We often meet in the middle in many Malaysian dishes – removing the abdominal shell while keeping the head and tail intact.
Regardless of your preference, we’ve got a step-by-step guide to help you peel your prawns like a pro. Read on!
Types of peeled prawns common in Malaysian cooking
The basic non-scientific guide to prawn bits
Before you learn to hone your prawn peeling skills, here’s a simple image featuring prawn parts you need to know. Memorize them. We’ll be quizzing you later… just kidding.
Part 1: removing the head
There are two ways of removing prawn heads. Option one removes the head completely, while the second option carefully removes the head shell while keeping the inside flesh intact. We’ll cover both these techniques.
Option 1: removing the head completely
- Hold the prawn abdomen in one hand and head in the other.
- Twist off the head completely. Easy.
Option 2: keeping the flesh intact
- This technique is slightly more complex but retains the delicious flavours contained in the head flesh.
- Hold the prawn abdomen in one hand and head in the other. Grip the head between your thumb and forefinger just in front of eye sockets and push the shell upwards, away from the prawn. The head shell is connected almost like a hinge to the tip of the head.
- Tuck a finger under the head shell and pull it backwards until it comes off completely.
- Peel off the walking legs.
- Grab the leftover head shell, and gently pull away so the head flesh remains intact.
Part 2: removing the sword
- The sword is a sharp piece of shell located at the tail. Even if you plan to keep the tail on, it’s good practise to remove the sword as it’s very sharp.
- Stick your thumb under the sword and lift it up.
- Pluck the sword off. Leave meat intact.
Part 3: removing abdominal shells and swimming legs
- Start from just behind the prawn head and peel off the shell. This technique applies to prawns with or without the head left on.
- Without needing to detach the shell completely, pluck out the walking legs.
Part 4: removing the tail
- If you’re going to remove the tail, you don’t need to remove the sword first.
- Use the tip of your index finger to lift and pull away the top part of the tail.
- Remove completely.
Part 5: deveining
- Deveining a prawn basically involves removing the intestine from the prawn’s abdomen. While skipping this step does not affect the flavour of the prawn or dish, it will, however, leave a gritty texture in your mouth when you chew on the prawn. It’s always good practise to remove it.
- Deveining can be done with the abdominal shell on or off using the same method.
- Lay your prawn on a flat surface.
- Use a small, sharp knife and carefully slice along the middle top part of the abdomen, from the head segment to the tail segment, deep enough until you see the intestine. This is normally about ¼ to 1/3rd of the way through the prawn’s abdomen.
- Use your fingers to pull out the intestine.
- If you plan to keep the head on, don’t forget to use a pair of scissors to trim away the antennae and any sharp parts. You can cut off all the swimming legs or leave some on if you like.
- The fresher the prawn, the easier it is to peel. Older prawn shells tend to get soft and paper-y and stick to the flesh.
- Instead of peeling one prawn at a time, simplify your process by completing one task at a time. For example, peel all the heads first, peel all the swords next, then peel all the abdominal shells next and so on. You can apply this process to your other mise en place (kitchen tasks) to help you be more efficient and neater in the kitchen.
Are you ready to flex your new-found prawn peeling skills? Give our tips a go and then turn them into some prawnilicious dishes with the recipes listed in the links below. Don’t forget to share your pictures with us by hashtagging #butterkicap!