How to cook prawns

Prawns are easy and quick to cook, and here in Australia we have access to beautiful, fresh seafood. With this guide to prawns learn how to boil them, BBQ them, choose fresh prawns and how many minutes to cook prawns.

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How to cook prawns

Prawns are very versatile and can be barbecued, pan fried, stir fried, boiled, baked and more. There’s a prawn recipe for every occasion - romantic pasta, hearty dinners to feed the fam, or simply barbecued and served with dipping sauce to please a crowd. 
Like other seafood, prawns are best when they’re very fresh and their delicate flesh is just cooked. Don’t be intimidated, with these tips you’ll have perfectly cooked prawns with ease!

How do you know if prawns are fresh?

The first step to a great prawn dish is choosing quality fresh Australian prawns.
Look for these indicators of freshness whether you’re buying cooked or green (uncooked) prawns:
  1. Prawns that are still in their shells and intact, that aren’t crushed or have their heads removed. 
  2. A firm, glossy appearance with no black spots around the head and body. Black spots indicate that the prawns haven’t been kept at the right temperature.
  3. A fresh sea smell. Avoid prawns that have a strong fishy smell or any ammonia smell.
Related: Click for tips on how to clean prawns.

How do you cook prawns?

Prawns can be cooked in many different ways, including poached, pan fried, stir-fried, barbecued, boiled and baked.
When cooked properly they’ll be juicy and tender, but if they’re overcooked they’ll become chewy or rubbery. To avoid this, only cook them three-quarters of the way through. The inner 2mm of flesh should still be translucent when you remove it from the heat, and the residual heat will cook it the rest of the way through. 
When barbecuing, sautéing, grilling and other ‘dry’ forms of cooking, marinate or brush prawns with oil. Always preheat your pan or BBQ before adding your prawns and cook on medium-high heat. 
If boiling or simmering your prawns in sauce or broth, add prawns in the last few minutes of cooking and cook on a low simmer, use the cooking times below. Never boil rapidly or they will become rubbery.

How many minutes does it take to cook prawns?

Prawns will turn a pink colour when they are cooked. Use these times as a guide:
  • Small to medium sized prawns: 3-4 minutes
  • Large prawns: 5 - 8 minutes
  • Jumbo prawns: 7 - 8 minutes

If you sear prawns and then add them back into pasta or a stir-fry, undercook them at first as they will continue to cook when you add them back to the dish. 

Note: If cooking your prawns on the stove or on the BBQ, cook prawns for half the above times on each side.

What colour are cooked prawns?

When cooked, prawn flesh will change colour from translucent grey to opaque white, with pink markings on the outside. If cooking with the shells on, they will also change to a bright red or orange colour. During cooking prawns will curl as the muscle contracts, giving them their curved ‘C’ shape. 

Can you cook with already cooked prawns?

Cooked prawns are best eaten cold or just warmed through. Further cooking will make the prawn chewy or rubbery. If adding cooked prawns to a stir-fry or other dish, only add it in the last moments to warm them.

Prawn recipes

Now you know the basics, try out some of the prawn recipes below! Don't forget you can collect these recipes in an ecookbook using your free myfoodbook account. If you don't have an account, you can create one here.

Get the recipe: Satay Prawn Noodle Soup

This warming noodle soup looks stunning but it only takes 20 minutes from start to finish.

Get the recipe: Honey and Soy Prawn Noodle Stir-Fry

This 30 minute, one-pan noodle dinner is full of saucy goodness and plump prawns.

Get the recipe: Nasi Goreng Tray Bake

This flavourful rice bake is packed with prawns, chicken, eggs and more hearty ingredients to make a satisfying family dinner.

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