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A Luxury Product: The Blue Legged Prawn from Vietnam

A Luxury Product: The Blue Legged Prawn from Vietnam

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2011-05-24

A recipe by the chef Thierry Blanchet, from the Faim & Soif restaurant in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés.

Known as Tôm Càng Xanh in Vietnam, the Blue legged prawn is a giant tropical freshwater prawn which has evolved over thousands of years in the Mekong Delta, close to the town of Can Tho and its nearby paddy fields.
“Its traditional period of breeding is long and costly and that means it’s almost disappeared in favour of the more profitable shrimps” says Mr Minh-Sang VO the French importer of the prawns. In fact 8 to 9 months are required for the blue legged prawn to reach maturity and develop its famous internal coral, renowned for its subtle taste. The prawn is 20cm long and weighs 250 grams - the equivalent of a large Gambas or a decent sized lobster. Its long, deep-blue claws, similar to those of the Brittany Lobster, have earned it the name of “Saphira” (from blue sapphire.)
So the Blue legged Prawn needs time, but it also needs space and when there are too many of them in the same pool they end up killing each other! Intensive breeding is therefore out of the question.
In Vietnam, the Blue legged Prawn is a luxury dish reserved for important occasions, such as the meals prepared during the Tet festival atthe lunar calendar New Year which takes place in February and which is also a festival for the ancestors. It is customary during these festivities to offer a Blue legged Prawn to the ancestors in order to receive their blessings.
They are usually cooked in a simple way and are lightly fried, grilled or steamed with the only seasoning  being a little salt, pepper and fresh coriander. First the raw prawn is dissected, the coral is taken out and put to one side and the meat contained in the pincers is extracted. A sauce flavoured with walnuts and coconut milk can then be made using the coral, which makes a perfect accompaniment for the Prawn meat. In fact coconut is also used to feed and to catch these shellfish as they grasp onto the pieces that float to the water’s surface.   
In order to sample this delicious Vietnamese product, I recommend you pay a visit to the Faim et Soif restaurant at Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, near Paris (where Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati was filmed). A Former chef on the legendary Orient Express train, Thierry Blanchet deserves much greater renown due to his cuisine that is technical, generous and unique. As a lover of good produce and old-style sauces prepared over a long time, Thierry Blanchet has been won over by this Vietnamese Prawn. His appreciation of it is due to "its delicacy of taste that’s very close to lobster." The recipe he prepared before our very eyes was, in itself, worth making the journey to Saint-Maur.
“I like to cook the Blue legged prawn wrapped in a slice of Paletta (pork shoulder) d’ibérico bellota , which adds a melt-in-the-mouth smoothness to the taste and texture of the Prawn.”
It’s a recipe that takes time – first of all you prepare an American sauce using the flesh contained in the Prawn heads, which is then flavoured with saffron pistils.
However the most important part is to fry the Prawn coral with a little olive oil, onion and Iberico Bellota chorizo. The coral is the element which gives it its exceptional flavour. Meanwhile, gently boil the “revered” black rice for 20 minutes - an element which brings a wonderful crunchiness to the dish. You then add it to the coral along with fresh peas, salt and Espelette peppers.
The tail end of the prawns are cut up, rolled in the paletta and lightly fried before being cooked in a hot oven for just 4 minutes. The flesh from the blue claws is fried in batter as tempura in hot oil.
Now for the presentation! The American saffron sauce, resembling a fine orangey yellow jelly, is served cold. Pour it onto the plate and place a spoonful of black rice in the middle. The prawn tail is cut into four slices which are then placed along with the tempura on top of the rice.  Finally add a pansy flower, some herbs and an emulsion of dried tomatoes.
This is a wonderful dish that can be accompanied with a fine, smooth and fragrant white wine (such as Condrieu), or by a young (but not too tannic) red wine (such as a Pinot noir from Burgundy like Volnay or Gevrey-Chambertin.)
To find out more about this product conact Mr Minh-Sang VO, from AQUAPRAWNA
325, rue de Charenton
75012 Paris
Tel.: +33 (0)9 50 74 37 28
The prawns cost around £23 per kg (professionals’ price) for a 250 gram a box of 4. The prawns are immediately packed in ice after being caught. They need to defrost for at least 24 hours before preparation.
Restaurant Faim & Soif
28, rue Saint-Hilaire
94100 Saint-Maur-des-Fossés
(RER transport - La Varenne-Chennevières) 
Tél. : 01 48 86 55 76
 The establishment has an à la carte menu from 50-60 € (with entrée, main course and dessert) and a fine wine list created by the owner, Annie Clasquin.

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