Spot prawns are actually shrimp. They lack the branching gill structure present in the small, swimming decapods known as prawns. We know that because we looked it up. Regulars at the Hollywood Farmers Market (where we dodge fedora-crowned dye-jobs, strollers, and $500 Ganesh shirts en route to a week's supply of good produce), we are devotees of Captain John Wilson's seafood stall. For the past few weeks, over the course of several visits, we have singlehandedly been responsible for depleting the local ridgeback shrimp population. In actuality, ridgebacks–snappy, sweet, as close to candy as shrimp can be–are prawns because, as we learned today, they possess a branching gill structure. Fascinating. Anyway, we're moving on, lovely, beautiful, hard-to-peel ridgebacks. Starting Sunday, those hefty orange spots with their firm, springy lobster-like flesh will be gracing our risottos, stir-fries, and theoretical surf-and-turf platters.
A few weeks ago, we were trying to rustle up some ridgebacks at Wilson's stand, known as Sea Fever Seafood. Tall, rangy, and tan, Wilson was scooping up some slithery sand dabs for a giddy customer. His assistant, a younger, shorter, equally friendly guy, bagged up our order. “We'll have spot prawns next week,” he said. “Great,” we responded. A week later, last week, as a matter of fact, we returned and, noting the absence of spots, shrugged and once more pillaged the ridgebacks cheerfully. Captain Wilson helped us this time. His assistant was showing a big dude in a Lakers sweatshirt how to hack open a spiny sea urchin. As we turned, the assistant glanced over and piped up, the same helpful, earnest expression on his face: “We'll have spot prawns next week.” We wondered if we weren't having a Groundhog Day moment.
Of course these fisherman were not being disingenuous. Spot prawns may be anticipated and yet not materialize, strangely eager to dive into pans slicked with olive oil, studded with globs of minced garlic. They are not, after all, meal-fed tilapia hauled from a tank with nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. Spot prawns are v.i.p. Perhaps they were hesitant to come back to work this season. Maybe they were on vacation. They caught the Kentucky Derby. They got lost in Baja. They were at the Forum with Prince. All we know is, this Sunday, there will be spot prawns hauled from the Santa Barbara Channel at the Sea Fever Seafood stand at the Hollywood Farmers Market from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. In the world of sustainably caught seafood, predictions and promises are interchangeable.