Mangoes, croissants and prawns. Whether it is a tradition or a strong memory, I really couldn’t say, but that is Christmas morning food in my mind. A relatively light starter on a day that, by necessity, needs to anticipate some serious stuffing. And I was intent on putting it on our December 25 breakfast table last year (as in, last week). The mango stays (and to be honest, it is probably the least negotiable of all). Croissants easily give way to the Squeeze’s family tradition of chocolate pancakes. This is our family’s American side and, at their best, they do pancakes that can genuinely make a mockery of the imitations most of us Australians and Kiwis know.
But for prawns, despite doing a lot to keep myself informed and engaged on the issue, it remains all too hard to work out which particular array on a fishmonger’s iced shelf may or may not be part of an oceanic Armageddon of which I want no part. They all look like prawns and therefore like they are delicious, but how do I pick the signs of outrageous bycatch slaughter and waste or Southeast Asian wetland destruction in their empty spiny visages? In the absence of reasonable labelling requirements, an unreasonable amount of consumer effort is the answer. I understand that there are some sustainably and ethically harvested prawns out there, but practically, it becomes easier just to leave them all be.
So, I have switched to foraged yabbies (Cherax destructor). Prawning with a hand net is on my list of planned foraging adventures, but until that day, yabbies are my closest accessible foraging bet. And, what is more, I prefer them. These from the NSW Southern Highlands (actually lowlands in the middle of the east, but so named for being marginally more southern and higher than Sydney). They may live in still murky water, but they still manage to taste like flowing rivers as long as the actual mud gets purged before the pot. And that is a precious taste, all too rare in dry old Australia, of what we sometimes call ‘sweetwater’.
Much like a prawn, you extract the tail meat from the shell, pull out the digestive line (“poo vein”) and dip the meat in a sauce that frequently involves mayonnaise. Unlike a prawn, you also get a couple of claws to get into – approached as you would a crab claw (cautiously if alive and with gusto if cooked).