My Friend Kae’s Tiger Prawns In Ginger

Whenever I sit down to write a blog post, what I (entirely too often) catch myself writing (and then replace with something else to avoid repetition) is something along the lines of “I have always adored {insert food item/type here}.”  It’s not my fault.  Really.  (And it’s true every single time, too.)

And as usual, today I could quite honestly start with  “I have always loved prawns…” and that, too, would be true.  On the other hand, there is more to say about today’s lunch, as it happens – and that is that it is possibly my favorite way of eating prawns, and also that the recipe was taught to me in early 2000s by my friend Kae, an American of Taiwanese extraction, and whose father is an amazing chef in his own right.

I remember whining to Kae about how whenever I tried to make prawns at home, they’d never taste as cleanly ‘prawn-ey’ as they did in a good restaurant – or at her place, and asked her what I was doing wrong or missing.  After which, she got some prawns out of the freezer, and made this, explaining every step as she went.  And yes, this really does taste like the prawns you’d get from a good restaurant, without a hint of fishy flavor, or being overpowered or overpowering by/with the seasonings.

So, what’s the magic secret?  There are a couple, actually, and while some are self-explanatory, one was actually a surprise to me at the time.  That one is the fact that, if you want your seafood to taste good, really good, you want alcohol.  I have mentioned this before (here), but it bears repeating – white wine, mirin or plain sake will remove any traces of fishy smell from fresh seafood.  So, there’s wine in this recipe, though not as a rinse but rather as a sauce ingredient.

The other part is that the prawns need to be cooked with their shell still on.  I am not so much of a purist as to insist on cooking them with their heads on as well (some argue that is the way to truly superior flavor), but I rather dislike the idea of buying peeled prawns for this.  Although, for reasons of niciety, and if you can be bothered, you can remove the legs.  Why shell on?  Very simply, because if the shell is off when the prawn is cooked in any way other than deep or shallow frying, it’ll become tough and lose all its juices, since its shell is actually its skin as well.  On the other hand, if you can’t find any but peeled prawns, this will still be heavenly with those – just make very, very sure that they are completely defrosted before cooking.  Cooking peeled prawns from frozen will not work very well (or, if I am to be honest, won’t work at all).

The third part is that while I am quite relaxed about cooking prawns from frozen if they are cooked in a soup, fish stew or curry, they must be defrosted and well-drained for this (or for any other dish where prawns are to be sauteed).  I don’t go so far as to dry them on paper towels, but a few minutes and a few shakes in a colander are the very minimum (and it’s not like it’s difficult to defrost and rinse the prawns and then stick the colander over a bowl or plate to drip while you prepare the remaining ingredients).

Once ready, these can be served on rice, on salad, or with a baguette to sop up the sauce, but as I have recently purchased a bag of fantastic quality round-grained (sushi-grade) Japanese rice from Hong Kong Trading here in Stockholm, for today’s lunch I simply steamed the rice, piled it into bowls and then put the prawns and sauce on top of its slightly-clinging sticky mounds.  Since rice cooking methods vary immensely based on what rice it is, my best advice here is to follow the cooking instructions on your bag of rice.  For sushi-grade rices, my usual method is to rinse the rice in cold water and then soak it in a sieve in cold water for 15 minutes, then drain and add 1.5 measures of boiling water for each measure of rice (as it was measured when dry before soaking) to the rice in a pot, bring to a high boil, stir and quickly reduce heat to low and cook covered for ~15 minutes.  Then, the lid can be lifted and wrapped in an absorbent kitchen towel and replaced, to collect condensation and avoid rice getting cold or wetter than it needs to be.

To prepare the prawns, here’s what you need:

  • ~300g defrosted and drained prawns (shell-on) – serves 2 persons.  I use tiger prawns, but smaller species can also be used.
  • 3-4 tablespoons canola or peanut cooking oil
  • 1.5dl white wine, sake or mirin (if using mirin, omit the following 1tbsp of sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 fingers of fresh, peeled ginger – sliced finely
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced finely
  • a pinch or more of chili flakes (to taste)

How-to:

  • Heat oil in a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat.
  • Add ginger slices and chili flakes and saute till ginger just looks cooked and edges start to barely color.
  • Add garlic and fry several seconds until fragrant and bright white in color.
  • Move ginger-garlic mixture aside and turn heat a bit higher, then add prawns and spread them as much as possible into a single layer.
  • Sprinkle sugar and then salt over the prawns, and once the down-side of those is turning red, pour in the wine.
  • Mix the prawns, wine, ginger and garlic and turn heat to high.
  • Saute the prawns while the wine reduces around them until they are bright red on both sides (flip those that have a darker side up) and flesh is white and opaque.
  • Remove off heat and serve over rice.

Note:  Don’t forget a bowl or plate for prawn shells which are to be peeled off while eating.  No, this is not a dish to be eaten elegantly (like any other dish involving cleaning crustacean shells off while eating), but the sharp and sweet ginger-garlicky flavour and the juicy prawn flesh are really, really more than worth the mess.  Trust me!

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