All Hail Spot Prawns!

4.95 from 19 votes
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gambas al ajillo receta
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Spot prawns, a large shrimp that ranges from Baja California all the way up to Alaska, are arguably the greatest shrimp in all of North America — if not the world.

I’ve eaten dozens of varieties of shrimp all over the world, and the only other species that come close are the Royal Red in the Gulf and the spot prawn’s cousin, the coonstripe prawn. Don’t get me wrong, all the other shrimp I’ve had in the United States and Canada have been fantastic, but spotties are special.

Why? For starters, there is a reason they are called amaebi, or sweet shrimp, on sushi menus. Spot prawns are sweet. Really sweet. Almost dessert sweet. Second, they can be huge, more than 10 inches long. Third, they are far more lobstery than any other shrimp I’ve ever eaten, richer and less, well, crunchy than normal shrimp.

And besides, aren’t they gorgeous?

spot prawns recipe
Photo by Hank Shaw

Finally, spot prawns are a sustainable fishery, so you can eat them without worrying about ruining the oceans. You catch them in pots dropped anywhere from 150 to 1000 feet down (300 feet is a sweet spot for prawns… see what I did there?) and when you haul the pots up, everything in them is alive. So you can toss back any bycatch.

I for one like to eat my bycatch, however. Whelks, Pacific pink shrimp, spotties’ cousin the coonstripe shrimp, etc.

Once you have some spot prawns, how to cook them? In a word, simply. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to not bury the flavor of these shrimp in heavy sauces.

If you have them ultra fresh, as in heads-on, suck the head like you would a crawfish. If that skeeves you out, try dusting them in corn starch and deep frying the heads for about 2 minutes. Shockingly good, and yes, you eat the shell and all. Heads also make a boss shrimp stock.

I prefer to cook my spot prawns shell on, because the shell adds flavor. And if the prawns have eggs under their little swimmerets, you gnaw them off like corn on the cob; they taste like tiny briny pop rocks. (Note that keeping prawns with roe is illegal in British Columbia.) If you do peel before cooking, save the shells for stock.

I have never seen an icky “mud line” in spot prawns the way you do with all other shrimp, so I never devein them. Go for it if it makes you feel better.

Cooking spot prawns should be a short process. Grill over high heat, or saute in a pan with olive oil or butter. Spot prawns like garlic, a little citrus and maybe some chiles or grated horseradish. Most people I know in Alaska or British Columbia just leave it at that — no curries, or heavy cocktail sauces or stews. Leave that for other shrimp.

This recipe for gambas al ajillo, or Spanish garlic prawns, fits the bill: Olive oil, lemon, garlic, a little chile, maybe a bit of parsley for color. That’s it. Peel and eat.

Spanish shrimp recipe
4.95 from 19 votes

Gambas al Ajillo, Spanish Garlic Shrimp

Any shrimp will do here, but I love this with spot prawns. You want lots of garlic, a little chile, and enough lemon to balance out the olive oil. This recipe is best done with shell-on shrimp that you peel at the table, but you can do it with peeled and deveined shrimp, too. 
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Spanish
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 13 minutes


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 to 2 pounds large shrimp, preferably spot prawns
  • Salt
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped or sliced thin
  • 1 or 2 small, hot chiles, sliced thin, or 2 dried, hot chiles, crumbled
  • Juice of a lemon


  • Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. When it just barely begins to smoke, add all the shrimp and toss to coat with the oil. 
  • Add the garlic, chile and salt the pan well. Cook over high heat, tossing and/or stirring, until all the shrimp just barely turn pink, about 2 minutes, tops. Toss with the lemon juice and serve at once. 


NOTE: These are also excellent served at room temperature or chilled as an appetizer. 


Calories: 238kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 286mg | Sodium: 882mg | Potassium: 103mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 27IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 170mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. These were very good and easy to make. Just a few ingredients. Do you have a recipe or suggestions for making seafood stock with the shells?

  2. Discovered your site and recipe and gave it a try. It is superb!. Really showcases the spot prawn beautifully.
    In the design field there is an adage of “Less is More” This is what your recipe is, nothing overpowers the prawns.
    Never too old to learn, Thank you, its a keeper!

  3. I made this tonight and nearly wept it was so good. I’ve never had spot prawns before. Mind-blowing. Thank you so much for this perfect dish.

  4. What type of chili pepper? All kinds of shapes and colors available, and I want to benefit from your experience with any/all… thanks

    1. Jay: Typically I’d use a small, hot one, like a Thai or Tabasco or pequin, but I like things hot.

  5. Hoping to make this tonight and hoping you might respond in time … I have 2 doz live spotted prawns – do I boil them first or toss them while into the pan?

  6. Thank you for the recipe. My husband, a salmon fisher, put down prawn traps for the first time and did we ever get a haul ~ 4 kg. Stupidly I threw the heads out, next time i am making stock for chowder.

      1. Gen: Yes, this one. Use all the ingredients as a marinade, then grill the prawns in the shells over high heat. Peel and eat!

    1. Cho: Depends. They are not endangered or threatened, and the roe is delicious. So it’s up to you. I keep some and toss back others.

  7. So simple and SO good! I belong to a fishery co-op and got some spot prawns. Had no idea what to do with them (specifically) so I was happy to find this article !!

  8. Spot shrimps look gorgeous! Most large shrimp we can buy in the UK are frozen Asian freshwater farmed shrimp. Not a patch on the flavour of the little ones we catch around our Pembrokeshire Coast! Do you know if spot shrimp are exported to the UK? Definitely a market here.

  9. I’ve been very interested in trying to catch spot prawns and coonstripe prawns in the Bay Area, but haven’t been able to find much info on it online, do you have any info or suggestions to point me in the right direction for this fishery? Love your website and books!

      1. We have spot shrimp in the Puget sound area of Washington state. Not sure how deep the Indians catch them though. Our friends give us leftover live spot shrimp that they don’t have enough of for exporting. We just received 4 pounds a few days ago .

  10. Thanks Hank for the spot prawn info. Reminds me of the fun and laughs my boys got when taught by my aunt to catch crawdads from the irrigation ditch with a piece of bacon attached to a string. Both are fathers now and I wonder if they have ever shared this memory with the grand kids.

  11. I always enjoy your articles. Thank you for the energy you use to do everything you need produce.

    How can a person purchase these shrimp if they don’t live near the Gulf?