A little over a month away from the beginning of summer, gastronomes are in anticipation of two things appearing at local markets this weekend: spot prawns and strawberries.
The warm spring has brought early kisses of sweetness unfound in any other local fruit. The humble strawberry can bring entire brigades and households of cooks to their knees with its delicate sweet-red-vanilla sunshine flavour, perfect for eating raw and naked, dressed in a salad, or adding as a dynamic foil to the hot fruit of dried chilis in a ceviche.
One of my favourite places to shop in the city is a Saturday adventure. The Vancouver Farmers Market collective is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year with Trout Lake Market growing from a handful of farms to over 60 in the past decade. This is one of our city’s most vibrant and busiest shopping stops for chefs like me grabbing early morning vegetables, and first of the season crops.
Walking the market early allows me the opportunity to chat with the farmers about how crops will be shaping up and growing over the year, and I can plan menus around what will be coming up. It is an exciting way to spend the morning and since the market runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. one has to move fast to grab the best food. The strawberries this year are wicked and they made me think of a cool twist on a classic ceviche, utilizing one of my favourite seafood products which has just come into season.
The 9th annual Spot Prawn Festival is presented by the Chefs’ Table Society of B.C. and it hits Vancouver May 17 at The False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf on the south edge of Granville Island. This is the perfect place to buy a bag of live, jumping sea beasties right off the boat for dinner as well as grabbing a plate of these West Coast delicacies served by members of the Chef’s Table Society, industry volunteers and students from the Pacific Institute for the Culinary Arts.
I love this festival and will be down there serving up almost as many spot prawns as I can eat. Spot prawn season began May 5 and will only run for six to eight weeks–a short affair to be celebrated and savoured. Spot prawns have a unique, tender, density which is quite different from a warm water prawn. These crustaceans are creamy, and incredibly sweet, and should only be kissed by heat or eaten raw with minimal dressing. My spot prawn ceviche recipe best showcases my interpretation of early May at the market.
Spot Prawn Ceviche West Coast Style with Strawberries and Smuggled Chilis*
Serves 2-4 as tapas
500g spot prawn tails
1 cucumber, cut in half and sliced thin
5 Fresh dill fronds
3 strawberries, cut in thin slices
2 dry Guajillo chilis, dry roasted and crushed
1 jalapeño chili, sliced thin
1 tsp sliced garlic
1 tsp finely grated ginger
60 ml apple cider vinegar
60 ml Camelina oil
Vancouver Island sea salt to taste
Combine all of the ingredients except the cucumber, jalapeño and dill. Marinate the prawns at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove from the the marinade and refrigerate 1 hour.
Combine with the cucumber, jalapeño and dill, drizzle a little more oil overtop and hit with a shower of salt. Eat cold.
*You don’t really have to smuggle them, but bringing dried chilis home from travels make early summer dishes absolutely sing! Granville Island’s South China Seas has an amazing array of chilis from around the globe.
Jonathan Chovancek is the executive chef at Vancouver breakfast, lunch and brunch institution Café Medina as well as the co-proprietor of Bittered Sling Bitters, a retail line of small-batch, artisanal cocktail and culinary bitters. A celebrated chef and avowed champion of the Slow Food movement, Jonathan’s more than 20-year career has included stints at some of Canada’s most acclaimed establishments.