Aboard The Organic Ocean For The 2011 “Spot Prawn Festival”

by Andrew Morrison | The opening of the Chef’s Table Society’s 2011 Spot Prawn Festival went down on Saturday, and as per tradition I awoke before dawn and climbed aboard the good ship Organic Ocean with friends Frank and Captain Steve Johansen to go out and score the day’s catch of spot prawns.

It was a dreary, freezing and very wet day,  one that began – gasp – without any coffee at all, which is an awfully depressing circumstance to suffer on any morning for me, let alone an especially horrible one as this was (not all that different from waking up and repeatedly getting punched in the face). Accordingly, I was hardly in high spirits – really just shivering with cold and miserably half-awake – until we caught a big, fat octopus having its way with anything and everything inside the trap that had ensnared it. Truly, the by-catch that we throw back is always the most fun!

We’d seen a few little guys in the traps, but this one was so big that it bear-hugged Frank, reaching around his shoulders, waist and crotch with its freakish arms and probably screaming “who the fuck are you?” in Octopus. Frank swore back in his own way and tossed it – with some difficulty – back overboard, where it instantly disappeared in a cloud of brown ink. The next sucker to appear was probably over 100 pounds. Frank’s “holy shit!” yells made us all jump. It was fully wrapped around a trap as it was being hauling it up, but it jumped off (thank goodness) before it was brought on deck. Too bad I was too slow to snap a photo…

Catching spot prawns is pretty straightforward. We visit each marker from where the traps were laid the previous day; pull up each set of traps; empty them out on a countertop on the starboard side and sort them with a few deft flicks of a pan; crate the biggies and throw the small ones back (together with the by-catch); lay out fresh, baited traps and then turn around for home and good times. The hold was filled with the juicy, sweet critters in less than five hours and four sets of traps. It was a good, easy morning, despite the unrelentingly shitty weather.

Luckily for us and the hundreds of people who showed up to celebrate, scarf and buy prawns fresh off the dock, it stopped raining shortly at noon, just as we were coming in (the sun even poked through, however intermittently, through to 3 o’clock). I had two jobs: wail on the boat’s airhorn as we approached the dock to announce our arrival (I do this with great pleasure each year) and fulfill some MC duties over at the kitchen stage with my buddy Terry David Mulligan (introducing the chef likes of Scott Jaeger, Tojo and Alessandra Quaglia). There, I repeatedly told the story of the fest and how it came into existence and why to anyone who would listen (five years ago, to support our fishermen and popularise a local market for an excellent, fully sustainable product that we’d previously shipped lock, stock and barrel to Asia), and once that was done, I walked around and took a few shots before heading home with two big bags to cook with…

  • Leaving the city...
  • In the cabin on the Organic Ocean
  • Getting ready...
  • Steve emptying the first trap
  • Steve emptying the first trap
  • What we're hunting...
  • Score!
  • By-catch, like this crab, is thrown back
  • Day-dreaming of writer solitude while prawning...
  • Sigh
  • Steve introduces himself to a kelp greenling
  • and tosses him back
  • Frank kisses a little octopus
  • Steve tries it the French way...
  • Frank gets attacked Spot Prawn Festival (May 2011) © Scout Magazine 2011
  • The view from the boat
  • More by-catch
  • Bubye
  • Jump around...
  • Sorting prawns
  • A pinky makes it on board
  • and back it goes...
  • Feed me!
  • Frank with a good bucket
  • Setting traps
  • Spot Prawn Festival (May) Sorting © Scout Magazine 2011
  • Swabbing
  • Boxing
  • Lunch
  • Nooooooooo!
  • Full
  • Frank arranging the hold
  • Yes!
  • We're full and coming in early
  • Coming into False Creek under the Burrard St. bridge
  • The crowd waiting for us at the Spot Prawn Fest (this is where I blow the horn)
  • People already lining up to buy
  • It begins
  • Kitchen stage
  • Chef Rob Clark of C
  • Lunch
  • Chef Neil Wyles of HSG serves
  • Look what I got
  • Stoked
  • Scarfage
  • Lining up
  • The Organic Ocean doing brisk business
  • Spot Prawn Festival - The line up to get down to the dock for purchasing
  • The beautiful Alessandra Quaglia and some admirers
  • Tojo schools crowd on Spot Prawn Prep
  • Om nom nom
  • Om nom nom
  • Chef Quang Dang of Diva plates
  • Service!
  • Scott Jaeger makes a prawn cappuccino
  • At home, prepping for supper

The season is short, but you can buy prawns off the dock at False Creek’s Fisherman’s Wharf every day for the rest of May and well into June. They cost $12 a pound. I’ve been told that, in Japan, they sell for upwards of $100 a pound. The taut flesh that they surrender is very sweet with its own distinct, super-delicious flavour, unlike the unsustainably farmed, god-awful Tiger Prawn mushies from Southeast Asia. Remember this when cooking them so you don’t go too far over the top with garlic, lemon or spice. You really want the naked taste to poke through a little!

PS. If you’d like some video to give you an idea of the day (when it’s sunny), here’s a home movie I shot a couple of years ago…

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