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Recipe: Pan-seared Prawns

Pan-seared garlic prawns 

Prawns are a fast and convenient choice of protein for the busy cook. Straight freezer, they can defrost quickly and be pan-seared to make a delicious dinner course.

Celia Hay prawns

Prawns can be confusing. Firstly, they are referred to as crustaceans and are also sold by size -shrimps are small and prawns are larger. There are both fresh water and marine varieties.  Most prawns are imported frozen into NZ although there is growing local supply. So when you see “fresh” prawns they have generally been defrosted. Fresh prawns in many cases appear green or grey and it is only when cooked, that the colour changes to what we recognise as “pink” prawns. If you buy prawns or scrimps that are pink, this means that they have been cooked.

Then, there are a series of questions to ask:

  1. Do you cook them in their shells or peel before cooking? 
  2. Do you remove the head and just cook the tail? 
  3. Do you remove the vein (intestinal tract) or black line that runs down the back?

You can use prawns for the same recipe whether they are peeled or deveined. Many people believe that cooking prawns with the shell will enhance the flavour of the broth and result in more succulent prawn meat. The downside is that they are a bit messier to eat.  To peel the prawns, you just need to wriggle them a little and ease off the shell, piece by piece. 

There is not big deal about cooking prawns with the head on – it is more a cultural thing about people not wanting to see the eyes! The head pulls off easily if you twist it.  The tip of the tail can be removed in the same way. 

The prawn is de-veined or has the intestinal tract removed as many consider it the prawn more attractive without the black line. It also removes the prawns stomach waste so that you do not need to eat it! See below for the method.

Like all seafood, prawns should be eaten as soon as possible and not left in the refrigerator for days. If they smell off when you come to cook them, your only choice is to throw them out!  

Pan-seared garlic prawns

Serves 2


8 prawns  - 4 per person

2-3 tablespoons canola oil

Knob of butter

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

pinch of cayenne or Tabasco sauce

Serve with steamed vegetables, noddles or rice.


  1. Peel the prawns.
  2. Heat a frypan, add in the oil.
  3. Sauté the prawns until they begin to change colour. Turn.
  4. Add in the garlic and butter.Cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pinch of cayenne. Squeeze lemon juice over the prawns.
  5. Remove from the heat. Serve on a warmed plate.

To peel a prawn

  1. Hold the body and twist off the head.
  2. Pull back the legs removing the centre section of the shell in the same motion. Peel back the shell.
  3. Squeeze the tail segment and gently pull to remove the tail if required. 

To de-vein

  • Follow step 1 and 2. 
  • With a sharp knife, make an incision along the back of the prawn through the vein. 
  • Pull out the vein. 
  • The prawn is now ready to sauté, stir fry, BBQ or poach.




Our People

CHEF FINN GYBEL  Originally from Denmark, Finn trained as a chef in leading Danish restaurants before heading to New Zealand with his family two years ago.

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Celia Hay

Celia Hay's great love of delicious food, fine wine and the art of hospitality led her to establish Hay's Restaurant in 1994 and the New Zealand School of Food and Wine in 1995 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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