Coldwater prawns battle for menu supremacy

Published on
May 23, 2016

A campaign is underway in the United Kingdom to educate chefs about the benefits of using coldwater prawns, instead of the tropical versions that have become ubiquitous on menus. There are signs that the three-year-old project is starting to score points.

British consumers love prawns; they are the fourth most-consumed species of seafood eaten in the United Kingdom. However, the domestic market lacks knowledge about the product, especially the differences between warmwater and coldwater prawns.

The issue is being addressed though a three-year education program for chefs, student chefs and lecturers, which is allowing them to reappraise coldwater prawns and to use them as a means to add value to dishes.

The project was developed following seven years of research by the International Cold Water Prawn Forum. The research sought to determine the views of consumers and culinary experts about the features and benefits of Pandalus borealis. It established that there was an opportunity to develop a unique positioning for the species in the culinary sector.

Initially supported by Greenland and Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, the project was recently joined by Iceland and Norway.

“These four countries are the major producers of coldwater prawns and their industries can see the benefits of raising awareness of the product and increasing consumption. The U.K. is the largest market for P. borealis, but there is also a growing market in China,” said program director Karen Galloway.

The first task for Galloway was to create a generic name – wild Atlantic prawns - that feels more consumer-friendly, and starts to give an understanding that the product originates from the waters of the cold Atlantic Ocean.

“Our research showed some very basic knowledge gaps in regard to chefs, many of whom thought that big prawns were adult prawns and small prawns were babies, with no understanding of the differences between farmed and wild, tropical and cold-water. We realised that an education program needed to go back to basics,” she said.

There was also an issue, particularly amongst younger chefs, who failed to appreciate that P. borealis is a cooked product with a delicate flavor and texture, that is not suitable for cooking in curries and stir-frys, or for pairing with strong chilli-based sauces.

“We even needed to teach them how to defrost the prawns naturally, rather than pouring boiling water over them and watching them shrivel up,” said Galloway.

In educating chefs, the project aims to establish and support premium price positioning for wild Atlantic prawns, thereby lifting them from their former commodity status. Succeeding in that effort will help stem their market share erosion to warm-water species and increase their usage in key target markets.

The project has hosted numerous master classes for student chefs in catering colleges, and Galloway said she’s delighted that the project is also helping raise confidence levels of chef lecturers in handling the product.

“Coldwater prawns have traditionally been seen as an old-fashioned choice, and not a product that requires imagination or skill to use, so they are not usually found on the culinary curriculum,” Galloway said.

To address this, the project is sponsoring competitions that encourage student chefs to take a more modern approach to using prawns on the menu, pairing them with high-quality seafood such as monkfish, crab and lobster, to add greater value to the dish. The idea is to give chefs a sense of excitement about prawns and to encourage imaginative thinking.

The results have ranged from the innovative to the outrageous, and Galloway is building up a recipe file that she hopes to turn into a useful book for chefs.

“Some have taken inspiration from Scandinavian open sandwiches, or used them in combination with pickled vegetables or kimchee,” she said.

With 300 colleges teaching professional cookery in the U.K., there is still much work to be done, but 18 months into the program, the awareness level of wild Atlantic prawns has risen from 11 percent to 43 percent, and chefs are showing a keen interest in using the product.

“The producers are very pleased with the results so far and we hope that within another 18 months, U.K. consumers will be seeing a lot more of this product on the menu,” Galloway said.

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