As I look out over the mountains slowly turning from green to speckled rust, I contemplate the harvest in this land of plenty. Not harvest from the earth, but from a pond. My mouth salivates at the thought of my newly flossed incisors tearing into the juicy flesh of…prawns.
Prawns, you say? I can hear it now: “This guy must have shrimp for a brain. Where in this pizza freaks’ redneck world of the Ohio River Valley can he get prawns?” At The Hocking College Aquaculture and Fish Hatchery at Lake Snowden, that’s where.
Thanks to Lloyd Wright, who heads the Fish Management and Aquaculture program — the only one in Ohio — I can adorn my crispy crust and cheese with the taste of the ocea…er…prawn. Geoff Roche and Austin Crouse, keepers of the aquaculture flame here in the Appalacian hill country, are known for teaching a new crop of wildlife managers how to grow, care for, and harvest fish and crustaceans. Unfortunately, I am late this year for the harvest from the outdoor ponds, but these really great guys take me on a tutorial of their world.
“Aquaculture is the future because it’s all a matter of protein,” Lloyd says. “The United States is a wealthy country with alot of land,where we can afford to give up 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. Growing fish as a sustainable resource takes only one pound of grain to produce one pound of fish.”
As Lloyd towered over me, he explained that common sense will eventually win out and our population will see the logic in aquaculture, maybe not in our lifetime, but probably in our children’s lifetime. Lloyd explained, “First the demand for fish must change. In the U.S., our protein source in order of preference has been beef, pork, poultry and fish. That’s the opposite of most other nations in the world.”
Boy, Geoff and Austin told me that Lloyd really knows his stuff. They weren’t lying; this guy was a veritable thesauraus of how we interact with our world and the future prospects for aquaculture. The aquaculture program started in 1999 and half its graduates end up in the private sector. Personally, I think he should run for President of the EPA. Here he is, talking about the prawns:
At the hatchery at Lake Snowden, water from crystal clear streams in the area feeds the tanks and ponds where perch, shrimp, catfish, crappie, bluegill and bass start their lives. Austin takes me four-wheeling to the ponds (It’s a tremendously windy day. I apologize for the audio):
One of my most annoying human instincts, curiosity, took command at the hatchery. It gnawed at me when I looked at these tanks and the dark brown/black shadows within. I couldn’t quite see anything, and begged for the guy with the net. Here is Geoff Roche with a few finds:
I’ve got a about 9 of these huge prawns, called Malaysian Blue Claw or Giant River variety. They exhibit a really cool Roman gladiator’s helmet between their eyes. It puts Russel Crowe’s to shame. Some have such tremendously long five-jointed claws. I am tempted to keep at least one of the claws to pick the last crabmeat out of my next snow crab dinner. Now that’s irony.
When confronted with an ingredient I want to put on a pizza or in bread, I always focus on the strength of its flavor. I think about the bread platform (wheat, salt and oil) and the strength of the cheese, sauce and other toppings to make a complete (or as some say, “a perfect”) pizza. Juxtaposed flavors and textures are also crucial to keep the diner intrigued and curious, leading them to more bites, which leads them to thoughts such as, “Wow, that was a great pizza!”
As Lloyd pointed out, if I wanted to mask or disguise the flavor of the shrimp I’d just jam those crustaceans in a pan with a ton of garlic and lemon and Parmesan, then serve them slathered in a fontina, goat cheese, capers and spicy chili pizza. Pretty good if they were shrimp from the sea, but this is not how I want to see these beauties treated. Their taste is too sublime.
I will try the Thai way. First I’ll crush and reduce the heads, claws and bodies in a pan of pork fat (called “fresh side” or pork belly here, it’s an unsalted, uncured, unsmoked bacon),wine, garlic and fennel, thus making a awesome reduced shrimp bisque-like sauce. In this sauce I will poach French breakfast radishes and combine with Gruyere, yellow tomatoes, and fresh basil.
Malaysian Prawn Pizza with Radishes, Yellow Tomatoes and Basil
Preheat oven only after ingredients are ready for topping. Take an up-side down heavy cookie sheet and place it on the middle shelf in the oven.
1 seven ounce dough ball from the Easy Pizza Recipe (on home page)
8-10 large prawns
1 cup cubed pork belly, pancetta or diced bacon
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup white wine plus a splash to deglaze pan
1 cup French breakfast radishes, about 15
1/2 bulb fresh fennel
1 tablespoon whole milk ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon grated Parmesan
3 to 4 ounces Gruyere cheese
3 tablespoons chopped yellow tomato
1 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
The most important thing in this recipe is to not cause pain to another creature. (Karma, dude. It’ll getcha.) The best way to kill live shrimp is to put them in the freezer for 3-5 minutes, to put them to sleep. Take them out and shove your knife between the eyes and rock it into the back of the head. This technique will kill them instantly.
To disassemble the prawns, start by twisting their heads off, being careful to save the flavorful juice. Grab the tail and pull both underside plates at the upper chest of the shrimp with your thumbs until it gives. Peel back the shell until it’s near the tail. Hold the tail and squeeze. You will feel the meat squeeze out. Reserve all.
Drag a sharp knife along the back of the shrimp to devein it. You will find a long small tube. Scrape it and pull this out.
Saute the diced pork on medium high in a pan until just browned. Remove to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan, and return to the heat. Splash with a tablespoon of white wine and rub a wooden spoon on the pan to deglaze. Turn the heat down to medium.
Add the chopped garlic, the extra virgin olive oil and all of the prawn shells to the pan. Using the wooden spoon as a mortar (of mortar and pestle fame), smash the shells and toss them in the garlic and oil for 4 minutes. Add the white wine and the water and turn up the heat to medium high. Simmer the stock for another 8 to 10 minutes and continue to toss and smash the shells.
Strain the shells in a wire mesh basket into a heavy bowl. Continue to smash the shells to get all the liquid out of the shells. Pour into a small saucepan on low heat.
Cut the fennel bulb in half vertically. Cut a “V” around the core and pull it out. Slice the fennel across the grain or use a mandoline to make thin strips. Using the uncleaned prawn pan over medium high heat, add tablespoon olive oil and the fennel. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes until tender. During the last 30 seconds, add the prawn meat and saute until just cooked on the outside.
Reserve both prawn meat and fennel for toppping.
Place the whole radishes in the simmering prawn broth and braise for 10 to 15 minutes until fork tender. Remove. Reduce the broth by half on medium low heat.
Cut radishes in half and reserve for topping.
Broth will be strong but pleasant. Add salt to taste and cool for pizza sauce.
Chop the fresh basil and tomato. Add the whole milk ricotta and grated Parmesan to the cooled prawn broth. Grate the Gruyere cheese (it will come to just under a cup).
Ingredients are ready for the pizza. Whew! Clockwise from the dough and sauce are basil, yellow tomato, pancetta, radishes, fennel, shrimp and Gruyere.
Form the pizza according to Easy Pizza Recipe. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
Top the dough with the sauce, the Gruyere, pancetta, fennel, and radishes. Do not add the shrimp. Place on middle rack of the oven on an upside-down, heavy-duty cookie sheet, preferably on parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. During the last 2 minutes add the shrimp.
Pull the pizza from the oven and top with the tomatoes and basil.
Smile and know that even if you are a pizza dork, you just made a great pizza! Serve immediately.