Prawns are wonderful. Never mind that they are bottom feeders and people think they are filled with tons of junk. Nil and I simply love prawns – doesn’t matter if they come to us boiled with a slice of lemon or stir fried or in curries. Prawns are yummy!
BUT getting to the flesh can be tedious if you hate peeling prawns to bits. Then there is the preparation – if you want to eat the flesh without having to peel it, you need to shell it before you cook it. They leave a stench on your fingers and anything that comes into contact with it, including my stroller basket. (I wouldn’t and cannot imagine parents with preppy strollers like this Bob stroller putting in prawns in their stroller basket so it must be just me/Nil!). My Swiss-Italian housemate used to think that I was nuts shelling my own prawns back in Australia when you can buy them shelled. They cost more and I was a stingy poker back then when it came to food. Besides, you can do more with unshelled prawns – pan fries, boiled, grilled and so forth instead of the regular add-in-veg or fried rice with shelled ones!
It takes a certain kind of skill to pick out fresh prawns from not-so-fresh ones – I’m still working on it although I got most of it down to pat, I think. Choose prawns with a firm texture, hard shell and not slippery. Sometimes I’m too busy thinking about other stuff to buy and get one or two which aren’t fresh but no biggie. Often, they are still edible; they just don’t taste as good as fresh ones – not-so-fresh prawns when cooked are often mushy, and their flesh sort of splits or falls apart easily.
When storing prawns, the old school style has always been to fill a container with some water and sugar, toss the prawns in immediately upon returning home and freeze it. For shelled prawns, sprinkle some sugar over and freeze. Sugar is used to maintain the firmness and enhance the sweetness in the flesh. Both methods have worked well in my favour; I find it great when prices are low and I want to stock up on prawns.
When cooking prawns, look out for the characteristic pink colour throughout the prawn. It should be even – this means even the tail and head has to be pink. Half-cooked prawns can result in you having a rendezvous with the toilet – not recommended at all. Having said that, don’t overcook your prawns – they will end up dry and tough. You want something juicy yet fully cooked.
How to cook whole prawns? Well, there are many ways – with butter, garlic, cereals, on the grill with/without marinate, boiled, curries and flavoured sauces, and Nil’s favourite style – with plenty of tamarind pulp. Note that with this dish, the more “burnt” the prawn is, the better the flavour so don’t worry about having to watch out for your prawn and use plenty of high heat. A non-stick pan will work best in this instance.
Pan fried tamarind prawns
500 gms medium to large prawns
100 gms of tamarind pulp – more if you like it stronger
Light soy sauce
- Remove the sharp bits on the prawns head and tail as well as the whiskers and rinse before marinating the prawns with the tamarind pulp and soy sauce.
- Leave to sit in the fridge for at least one hour or more if you want a stronger flavour.
- When ready, put a non-stick pan on medium-high heat and wait till the pan is smoking hot before placing the prawns in on one side. Flip over when the flesh is pink and the shell is slightly charred. Remove when both sides are fully cooked and slightly charred. Repeat until all the prawns are cooked.
- When the last batch of prawns are ready but still in the pan, pour the marinate into the pan (still on medium-high heat) with the previously cooked prawns.
- Add in about 50ml of water and stir until the sauce thickens or is nearly dry, leaving a coat on each prawn. If you like more sauce, then you don’t have to reduce a lot of the sauce. If you don’t like the sauce, then cook it for longer.
- When ready, dish and serve warm with some rice or other dishes or eat on its own.