Tiger prawns cooked in sea salt (Mazzancolle al sale)
When looking for “mazzancolle” at the fishmonger, just ask for tiger prawns. For the recipe below, I used 10 tiger prawns because it is quite easy to lay them in one circular flan dish. If you want to cook more than 10, then I suggest you use use more than one oven dish or cook at different stages remembering to use the same salt mixture (it tastes even better!). This recipe is ideal as a starter when you have a fish meal but you can also decide to have it as a main course (it just depends on how many tiger prawns you use).
Coarse sea salt (in this recipe I used 800 g - 1 1/2 lb of salt)
1/2Lemon (just half lemon)
40ml(1 1/2 fl oz) Extra virgin olive oil
A handfull of flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
Put all the salt into a large bowl.
Squeeze over about half a lemon.
Add the parsley.
Add the olive oil.
Mix everything together.
Get your flan dish
Put part of the mixture into a flan dish to form a bed.
Lay the tiger prawns onto the salt bed with their heads pointing outwards.
Cover the tiger prawns bodies with the remaining salt paying attention NOT to cover the heads.
This is how it should look like before putting it in the oven. Now, pre-heat the oven at 200°C (400°F) and when it is ready, put the dish into the oven for about 8-10 minutes (see the note at the bottom). Generally speaking, the prawns should be ready when their heads start becoming slightly burnt. Try different cooking times to suit your taste. This way you will know exactly how to get the best results from your oven.
To serve this dish, place in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves. Remember that because the salt is very hot, the prawns will still be cooking. To avoid overcooking, remove the top layer of salt with a fork.Buon appetito!Note: the time for cooking the “mazzancolle” is 8-10 minutes at 200 °C (400°F) but this is not always correct because many factors may affect the cooking process. If you have not pre-heated the oven properly, for example, you risk to increase the cooking time, resulting in chewy prawn meat. If you do not have a fan assisted oven, that distributes the heat uniformly inside the oven, the top part of the oven is always hotter than the bottom, so watch where you put your flan dish. Last but not least, “mazzancolle” come with many different scientific names (Penaeus Monodon, Penaeus Vannamei, Penaeues Kerathurus, Penaeus Durarum etc.) and what we have in Italy is probably slightly different from what we get in the UK, where I now live and buy my fish. I normally use black tiger prawns, that belong to the family of the “mazzancolle”, but also need a bit of extra time for cooking (sometimes 11-12 minutes).Instead of sticking to the cooking times indicated, I suggest the following advice: the black tiger prawn, when cooked, turns to a pink/red colour so, after 10 minutes move one prawn and check the colour of the body. If the body still has some grey parts, this means it needs extra cooking time. Another way is to watch the tiger prawn heads; when their heads start to turn a slightly burnt colour, this means that they are cooked. Another way is the smell; suddenly you will notice a lovely smell spreading in your kitchen so, when this happens, take them out of the oven quickly. If you are not sure, try with a couple of tiger prawns before putting the others in the oven.