What are they?
Very small, wild-caught marine or estuarine prawns (Metapenaeus macleayi). Lightly floured and fried until crisp, they can be eaten heads, tails and all, although sightings have been reported of diners attempting to peel off the tiny shells before eating.
Where are they?
In Sydney, honourable mention goes to Armando Percuoco of Sydney's Buon Ricordo, who was deep-frying the little critters at his original Pulcinella restaurant in Kings Cross in the 1980s. At Westfield Sydney's Xanthi, owner-chef David Tsirekas serves crisp-fried Clarence River school prawns with a stunning ancient/modern fermented-style anchovy sauce spiked with lemon juice and honey that almost caramelises on top. ''The hotter the oil and the quicker the frying, the better,'' he says. ''Eating them should be like biting into the sea.''
In Melbourne, chef Jenna Abbruzzese at Joseph Abboud's Rumi in Brunswick East serves crisp-fried school prawns with a lemony tahini sauce and Rumi's baharat - a magical, aromatic Middle Eastern spice mix of cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, sweet paprika, black pepper, nutmeg and fennel seed, ground and mixed with sea salt. ''They're so easy to snack on and to share,'' she says. Her tip? ''Snip the feelers off first, as they burn easily.''
Why do I care?
They're one of the delights of an Australian summer, in peak season from October to April.
Can I do them at home?
Look for green (raw) school prawns at top seafood specialists such as Claringbolds Seafoods (Prahran Market, Melbourne) and Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont. If you can only find cooked school prawns, then scoff 'em straight-up; do not deep-fry.
Xanthi, Level 6, Westfield Sydney, corner Market Street and Pitt Street Mall, 9232 8535
Buon Ricordo, 108 Boundary Street, Paddington 9360 6729
Rumi, 116 Lygon Street, Brunswick East 03 9388 8255
Serve with mayo or aioli spiked with whatever turns you on - preserved lemon, dukkah, sweet chilli sauce, roasted red peppers, smoky chipotle in adobo, etc - and wedges of lemon or lime.
400g small raw school prawns
75g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
Oil for deep-frying
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
4 thyme or rosemary sprigs
sea salt, for serving
2 tbsp aioli or mayonnaise, for serving
1 lemon or lime, quartered, for serving
1. Rinse and pat dry the prawns, and snip off any overly long whiskers.
2. Mix the flour, salt and paprika on a plate.
3. Heat the oil to 180C or until a cube of bread turns golden in about 10 seconds.
4. Mix the garlic, chilli and herbs together, lightly dust with flour, and deep-fry for 20 seconds until crisp. Remove and drain.
5. Working in small batches, coat the prawns in the flour and shake off excess (best done through a colander) and deep-fry quickly until golden, then drain. Toss with sea salt and scatter with the fried chilli, garlic and herbs.
Serves 4 as starter