food

Produce explained: 9 types of prawns for different dishes

Last Updated: June 22, 2021

Written by Ariel C.

I’ve always considered prawns my favourite (and thus, the best) shellfish because of their versatility; spicy hae bee hiam rolls at Chinese New Year are an elite-tier snack and it’s impossible for me to say no to a steaming mountain of prawns hidden under a pile of deep-fried buttery cereal and curry leaves.

The variety available at your nearest grocery store may seem intimidating if all you want is to replicate a delicious shrimp scampi pasta at home without making a panic call to your mother (like I did) to ask her the difference between pink, white, and black prawns. 

As a self-proclaimed prawn-fessional, I promise that picking the right type for any dish is not a difficult feat, whether you’re starting out small with unfamiliar recipes or searching for a specific type of prawn for a homemade rendition of prawn mee that reminds you of your favourite hawker stall. Here are nine types of prawns to kick-start your education on these critters.

1. Pink prawn

What it is:

Pink prawns are caught all year long and an immensely popular option because of how easy they are to pair with sauces. Sweet and tender with a mild flavour profile, they are healthy, low in saturated fat, and a good source of protein.

What makes it unique:

Their size limits the ways that they can be cooked and served, which means that most other recipes favour bigger prawns due to their versatility and application in cooking.

What it’s used for:

Due to its small size, they are perfect as a topping for salads, fried in an omelette, or used as a garnish in seafood. Their sweet flavour makes them the perfect choice for dishes with delicate sauces such as shrimp and grits. 

Price: from S$12.80 per kilogram

2. Brown prawn

What it is:

As their name suggests, brown prawns are a muddy shade of grey-brown when caught but turn a brilliant bright pink when cooked. They grow to an average of six inches in length and are typically harvested during their peak spawning periods in February and March.

What makes it unique:

They are cooked alive to prevent them from turning mushy and becoming impossible to peel. As a result, these are frequently boiled on board fishing boats and most commonly sold in a potted form to preserve their umami flavour.

What it’s used for:

Brown prawns are often dried out to preserve and ferment, thus intensifying their flavour, making them perfect for hae bee hiam pastes and Indonesian-style sambal chilli. Hae bee hiam is then used to enhance the taste of fried rice, broths, or even dumplings.

Price: from S$23.80 per kilogram

3. White prawn

What it is:

The most commonly farmed species and easily accessible at the wet market nearest to your house, white prawns are the go-to prawn used in jumbo prawn mee stalls, and is very bouncy, crunchy, and sweet.

What makes it unique:

The white prawn is called “Ang Kah”, which translates to “red leg” in Hokkien. Despite this, they don’t always have red legs, though their shape makes them easily identifiable. They typically range from a transparent yellowish-white hue to a reddish tinge and often grow to approximately six inches.

What it’s used for:

As it’s widely available island-wide, it is likely to be the one that you eat whenever you order a prawn-based dish. Their crunchy texture and big size make them perfect for stir-frying in a garlic butter lemon sauce and served atop a steaming plate of al dente pasta. 

Price: from S$20.30 per kilogram

4. Rock prawn

What it is:

Rock prawns are a relatively large species compared to the tiny pink prawn. Their big size means that their tails are frequently misidentified as lobster tails.

They also have a sweet taste and chewy consistency which makes the rock prawn similar to, and therefore an affordable alternative to lobster.

What makes it unique:

These prawns are also aptly named after their rock-hard shells that are so impossible to deshell by hand that they have to be removed by machines. Before the creation of deshelling machines, these rock prawns were discarded because of the sheer hardness of their shells.

What it’s used for:

Rock prawns are versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways such as boiling, steaming, frying, or grilling. Many recipes use them in shrimp scampi, or in risotto to enjoy their full lobster-like flavours and crunchy texture.

5. Tiger prawn

What it is:

The tiger prawn is one of the most commercially marketed and internationally distributed species of shrimp in the entire world, thus aptly nicknamed the king of prawns, also known as gao chap hei (lit nine stripes) in Singapore. 

What makes it unique:

Unlike cold water shrimp that usually have blander flavours, the tiger prawn’s meat is distinctly sweet with a firm texture. It is one of the biggest prawn species sold for consumption, often nine to 11 inches in size when harvested.

What it’s used for:

Coated generously with batter and sprinkled generously with tempura crumbs, the tiger prawn will be the top contender for the well-loved shrimp tempura side dish in most Japanese restaurants. 

Price: from S$21.99 per kilogram

6. Spot prawn

What it is:

Spot prawns are delicate and need to be handled with care during harvesting, making them exquisite and expensive options. They are often said to have a soft texture that melts in the mouth, and are the most difficult species of prawns to find in your local wet markets.

What makes it unique:

Unlike the other members of its family, the spot prawn can actually be eaten raw, just like sashimi. They are named amaebi, which translates to “sweet shrimp” and can be served with wasabi and soy sauce.

What it’s used for:

Spot prawns can be cooked just like any other species, but you are strongly recommended to use their heads to make shrimp stock to take full advantage of their delicious flavour. Spot prawns are also great additions to a dish of paella or a hearty seafood stew.

Price: from S$154 per kilogram

7. Giant river prawn

What it is:

Giant river prawns are frequently found in Southeast Asian countries and are easily identifiable by their bright blue tail, legs, and antennae. Also known as udang gelah in Malay and is always high in demand, more so during Chinese New Year.

What makes it unique:

Its popularity means that the supply can never meet the demand, which allows retailers and fishmongers to charge higher prices. These prawns can grow to impressive sizes of approximately 23 inches, making them highly sought after by consumers in Asia.

What it’s used for:

They are incredibly rich in roe in their heads and shell. They are thus perfect for making gravies, stews and sauces due to the richness of flavour and also the most common choice for the spicy Thai staple loved by Singaporeans, seafood tom yum soup.

Price: from S$36.99 per kilogram

 8. Glass prawn

What it is:

Known as po li xia in Chinese, glass prawns are famed for their sweet flesh and softshell. Despite being named after glass, they are pinkish in colour with small black spots on its head and legs.

What makes it unique:

They are harvested seasonally, and despite being highly sought after, it is readily available in supermarkets and a popular choice for beginners to try out new recipes with.

What it’s used for:

Their softness makes them good choices for mashing and used as shrimp-based wanton fillings. Deep-fried or boiled and then served in rich broths topped with chives, the glass prawn is a staple in every household.

Price: from S$29 per kilogram

9. Banana prawn

What it is:

Named after the yellow fruit, banana prawns have translucent yellow bodies with cream-yellow legs and brown spots that make them similar in appearance to the skin of the popular yellow fruit.

What makes it unique:

A rising favourite amongst Australians, banana prawns are a favourite because they retain their shape even after cooking and boast of a light and sweet flavour. They are versatile and also pair well with spicy flavours characteristic of Asian dishes, and are also nicknamed ang kah by locals.

What it’s used for:

Their versatility makes them a good contender for shrimp-based dishes from chilli jams to prawn cakes and even Thai-style coconut curries.

 Price: from S$39 per kilogram

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