“The goals of the spot prawn festivals are to highlight an environmentally sound and locally sourced product and to remind us that farmers markets don’t stop at the waters edge.” The Chefs’ Table Society of B.C.

Behind this declaration lies a stark market truth. Spot prawns are a seasonal delicacy in B.C. and the influx of farm-raised Asian prawns into our grocery stores over the past decade or so have posed a threat to the local fishery. The Asian variety are available year round and they are generally cheaper. But even 10 years ago, the intensive farming being done on the shorelines of Asian countries to meet world demand were killing whole swaths of seabed. The dead areas were becoming so large that they could be seen by satellites high above the earth. Those who actually went out to see such farms in operation were appalled at the filth and destruction left behind when farms could no longer be productive and had to move on to cleaner waters. In short, such production just isn’t sustainable. (And, by the way, if you’ve ever tasted a local prawn next to an imported, farmed specimen, you’ll never go back to the import.)

Local chefs who had incorporated sustainability into their menus were approached by prawn fishermen who saw their markets disappearing. Something had to be done to make the public aware of the precious and sustainable ocean resource we have right here, and that’s when the CTSBC went into action with the first prawn festival in 2007.

Today, awareness is high as food-lovers eagerly anticipate the opening of another spot prawn season this weekend. Says Vancouver’s John Bishop of Bishop’s Restaurant: “The overall idea was that the public and the restaurants should know such products are available locally, so the idea was for a two-month spot prawn festival and we as a chefs . . . would do what we could to showcase the spot prawn.”

While each chef in the CTSBC will showcase the prawns in his or her own way, Bishop describes his approach as that of a purist.

“I love them steamed like crab and have them with drawn butter (or) a light mayonnaise with mustard and garlic. I like to barbecue them too, toss them in a little olive oil and grill them just like that – as with lobster and crab, once they turn pink, they’re done.”

Bishop says he likens the experience of eating a big pile of steamed or barbecued prawns out on the picnic table — newspapers down to soak up the drips, then get down to it — as similar to the lobster feasts of Prince Edward Island. Pour a local chardonnay or pinot gris, and you have the makings of heaven. “They’re so rich and incredibly tasty, so nice and fresh,” he says.

And the prawns don’t stop giving there, either. “Keep the shells; they are the makings for a wonderful bisque,” Bishop says.

Here’s what to do, he says. Place the uncooked or cooked shells into cold water, about half again as much as covers the prawns, and add fresh herbs like thyme and a bay leaf, bring to simmer and cook for about 30-40 minutes. You can also add onion or celery for a deeper flavour. Allow to cool and strain. From that base, you can make a wonderful bisque. You can also freeze the stock for later use in a seafood stew or soup.

If you buy more than you can use now, spot prawns freeze well. “The best best way is to remove the heads, place tails on baking sheet, freeze them, then bag them. They’re good for couple of months that way,” says Bishop. You can also freeze the tails submerged in water, but don’t leave the heads on or they become discoloured and will cook up mushy. The heads, of course, can join the tail shells when making the prawn broth.

Ready for some good eating? The prawn festival kicks off Saturday, May 8, with a family-friendly event at False Creek Fishermen’s Wharf in Vancouver and from noon to 3 p.m. at  Granville Island Public Market where  live entertainment, speakers, children’s play area and wine tasting are on the bill.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Island version of the CTSBC spot prawn festival will be held next Saturday, May 15 at the lovely waterfront district of Cowichan Bay, where C Restaurant Executive Chef Robert Clarke is special guests and many local restaurants will be featuring this sweet ocean treat on their menus.

Not to worry if you can’t make it to either festival. Fresh-caught spot prawns will be available at $12 a pound daily after 1 p.m. into mid-June at Fisherman’s Wharf.