Mat Lindsay gets a little sad when his prawn dishes are returned to the kitchen with the heads and tails untouched. "About half the people get into eating the heads and tails and about half think it’s a bit weird," says the chef. Ester’s understated dining space in the backstreets of Chippendale hinges on Lindsay’s skill with the wood-fired oven – which he uses to roast the prawns served with brown butter and tamari.
"In Spain and Japan they have seafood with very basic sauce. This dish is simple but classic with the brown butter and capers," he says. The tamari butter was the result of an accidental mixing of flavours while working at Billy Kwong.
"People love umami and this is pretty much super umami," he says, adding that the texture of the prawn is also important. When cooking the prawns, stop while they’re still a little opaque, rather than going the whole way, Lindsay explains. This way they will be nice and soft and avoid becoming rubbery.
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12 large green king prawns
250g unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon tamari
freshly ground black pepper
50g salted capers, rinsed then fried until crisp
lemon cheeks, to serve
Preheat the oven to its highest setting – you want the prawns to cook fast and the shells to crisp up.
Use sharp scissors to carefully cut the prawn shells along the back and the belly from the tail up to the bottom of the head (try not to cut into the meat) and remove one half of each shell. Cut the heads open along the belly side and hinge open to butterfly. Carefully devein the prawns.
In a heavy-based saucepan, cook the butter over medium heat until light brown – be careful not to go too far, as it will become bitter. Once ready, take off the heat for about 1 minute to cool slightly, and then add the tamari a little at a time until seasoned to taste.
Preheat a baking tray or large frying pan (large enough to fit the prawns lying flat) in the oven for a few minutes. Place the prawns shell-side down in the hot tray, drizzle over some oil and roast until just cooked. This should take roughly 11⁄2–2 minutes, depending on how hot the oven is.
Carefully transfer the prawns to a large platter, pour over the brown butter, season with pepper and scatter over the fried capers. Serve with lemon cheeks on the side.
Use your hands to dig in, and don’t forget the shells and heads are completely edible.
This is an extract from The Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook, which contains 80 recipes from the city’s best restaurants, cafes and bars.