ITALIAN DELICACIES: MAZARA RED PRAWN
A closer look at Mazara del Vallo red prawn, a high quality crustacean from the south-western coast of Sicily: discover how to enjoy it the best.
Coral red and honey sweet, one of the most highly prized crustaceans on the market comes from the waters around Mazara del Vallo, a small town on the south-western coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, situated at a distance of 200 kilometres from the North African shores. Today’s topic is the Mazara red prawn.
The port of Mazara shelters one of the largest fishing fleets of the Mediterranean, engaged in deep-sea fishing in the Strait of Sicily. Ever since the second world war, in fact, that of Mazara del Vallo has been the only fishing fleet equipped with the necessary technology to catch this type of prawn in deep waters. This species has a predilection for the 700-metre-deep sea beds in the fishing division FAO 37.2, located between Cyprus and Turkey. Once frozen, the Mazara red prawn is sent off to the markets of Singapore, Dubai, Great Britain, France and Germany. Fishing goes on throughout the year, even though the largest catches are those of late spring and summer. Red prawn fishing does not involve any particular environmental issues.
THE ROSSO DI MAZARA FISHING
A Sicilian friend of mine once said: the only way you can taste a truly fresh prawn is to be on the dockside at dawn when the boat comes in. The other way is to eat one that has been properly frozen on board. This is actually the best method because it preserves the characteristics of the product intact for several months after its harvest as though it were fresh: organoleptic and nutritional properties, consistency, flavour and aroma remain unaltered.
Impossible to farm, this species is caught using trawler fishing nets to reach the deep muddy sea beds of its habitat. Those who have been fishing for generations, like the Giacalone family, have created the Rosso di Mazara trademark to protect this valuable shellfish from imitations of inferior quality (such as the Mozambique prawn). Their fishing vessels employ the “flash freezing process” which preserves the product at a temperature of – 50C°.
The Rosso di Mazara is the only red prawn in the world to be certified as bisulphate-free and to have been awarded Friend of the Sea certification. Before being frozen on board in 2 kg boxes, Mazara red prawns are sorted by size. According to the size of the crustacean, the boxes are classified as “prime, second, third or fourth grade”. It goes without saying that each size will carry a different price.
COOKING WITH MAZARA RED PRAWNS
Bear in mind that nothing beats the enjoyment of eating a quality Mazara red prawn served raw at a temperature of around 15 degrees. Alternatively, this valuable shellfish may be transformed into a tartare or a carpaccio. It may also be used to dress pasta or rice. Having said this, if you decide to boil, pan toss, fry or grill your red prawns, remember that their delicate red flesh should never be cooked for more than 40/50 seconds on either side.
The secret of its unique and intense aroma reminiscent of the sea lies in the prawn bisque which is used to enrich soups, risottos or pasta. This simple recipe consists in adding water to the discarded heads and shells to make a stock. Boil the stock until it is sufficiently reduced, filter it and voilà: your shellfish stock is ready to use.
PERFECT PAIRINGS WITH MAZARA RED PRAWNS
The Mazara red prawn loves to pair up with citrus fruits, or porcini mushrooms which recall its aroma, and also teams up well with the fattiness of burrata. The most suitable wine pairing for a prawn tartare is a Sicilian Metodo Classico produced from autochthonous varietals such as Grillo, Inzolia, Carricante and Nerello Mascalese.