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Don’t Come The Raw Prawn, Or Shrimp, With Me

By John Rowe on May 22, 2013 in Other

Photo: George Evatt

Photo: George Evatt

The expression “Don’t come the raw prawn with me” originated among the Australian services in World War II. It refers to an attempt to deceive someone or misrepresent a situation – basically, “Don’t try to put one over me”.

While a raw prawn might be difficult to swallow, prawns have always been a part of our national cuisine – beer and prawn nights being a classic example. Paul Hogan let us down when promoting our famous culture by telling Americans he would put another “shrimp” on the barbie for them when they came over to visit. The thing is, he had to say that because Americans don’t eat prawns, only shrimp, and at the time it was thought that they didn’t understand what a prawn was. But we all know what Hoges really wanted to say was: “G’day mate. Put another prawn on the barbie for me, will ya?” Aussies say prawn. Americans say shrimp.

The thing is, real shrimp are just too ‘shrimpy’ to cook, and that is the main difference. A prawn is big. A shrimp is small.
As most of you would know, both prawns and shrimps are crustaceans. What you may not know is that they belong to a particular group of Crustacea known as Decapoda, as they have five pairs of legs on the main part of the body, plus five pairs of swimmerets on the abdomen or tail.

The creatures we call prawns are known scientifically as Penaeids (they belong to the decapod family, Penaeidae). Australian shrimps, on the other hand, are members of the Caridea, another group of Decapoda comprising many families. Most carideans are not edible, or they are too small (rarely more than 40 mm long) to be caught commercially in Australia. The only edible shrimps seen in Australia are imported in cans from Asia.

Australian prawns are available all year round throughout Australia, although some seasonality does occur with catches, depending on the fishery. Catches are generally processed on board vessels. Prawns can be either cooked while at sea for the best-tasting natural prawns, or packaged raw (‘green’) for you to cook at home. They can also be processed so that the shell has already been removed.

Prawn fisheries represent the biggest seafood market in Australia. Some are sustainable, such as the Spencer Gulf Prawn Fishery in South Australia, which has recently received the internationally recognised Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. The Northern Prawn Fishery, located off Australia’s northern coast, is currently being assessed for sustainability.

There are about 70 species of prawns in Australia, but only 10 are of economic significance: banana prawn, Endeavour prawn, tiger prawn, king prawn, red-spot prawn and school prawn are some of the names used for different species or groups of species.

Once they’re cooked, just take their heads off, peel the tails and eat as many as you like. I even know some people who love to suck the prawn heads. Excuse me if I decline the invitation. Whether you try that taste test or not is up to you.

John Rowe is a member of Gordon’s Bay Scuba Diving Club. A full list of his references is available on request to