What’s cooking today: Salt and pepper prawns
This is a delicious prawn dish for which most of the effort happens before they’re cooked. Once it’s time for that, they’re ready in a flash. It’s an Asian classic well worth having in your arsenal.
Salt and pepper prawns sounds simple and the dish is not hard to achieve. But attention needs to be paid to details such as ensuring that the prawns are super dry before being coated, and carefully toasting the pepper before mixing it with cornflour. And whatever you do, don’t overcook the prawns. They really don’t need more than a minute in hot oil.
700 g vannamei prawns, deveined and butterflied, then dried with kitchen paper
Cooking oil for deep frying
1 Tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1 Tbsp crushed Szechuan peppercorns
1 Tbsp white pepper powder
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 cup cornflour
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
For the dipping sauce:
1 green chilli, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sweet soy sauce (such as kecap manis or product labelled sweet soy)
1 Tbsp chopped coriander
Black pepper to taste
Prepare the prawns (devein, dehead, snip off the feelers) or buy the product I prefer, vannamei prawns that have already been deveined and butterflied. But they still need to have their little feelers snipped off and heads removed. Then give them a rinse and let them dry, and pat dry with kitchen paper. They’re going in a light coating of cornflour so drying them is key.
Measure the black peppercorns and Szechuan peppercorns and add to a dry frying pan. Put the heat on low and toast it for about 3 minutes but don’t let it smoke for more than a second. Shake the pan quite a lot. The pleasing aroma will tell you when it’s just right. Grind it to a relatively fine powder (the Szechuan peppers will still be partly flaked). Stir the white pepper into this as well as the salt. Don’t skip this step: Before coating the prawns in the cornflour-pepper mixture, remove 1 Tbsp of the salt and pepper mix to a small bowl and keep to one side for sprinkling over the prawns when serving later.
In a small bowl, combine the toasted pepper-salt mixture with cornflour and mix thoroughly. Coat half of the prawns in it, shaking each prawn off to get rid of excess cornflour. Put them in a bowl and repeat with the remaining prawns.
Mix the dipping sauce ingredients together and have it ready for serving.
Heat oil to 160℃ in a deep pot. I don’t use a temperature gauge; 160℃ is the temperature reached when tiny bubbles shoot out when a prawn (or potato chip) is dipped in. That’s when to moderate the heat to keep it there.
Deep fry the prawns in batches of 4 or 5 (depending on your pan size) for 1 minute and drain on kitchen paper in a bowl or colander.
Fry the chopped garlic in a little oil on a moderate heat until golden but not burnt. Drain on kitchen paper.
Serve with lime wedges and garnish with fresh chopped coriander, the golden bits of fried garlic and the dipping sauce on the side. Finally, sprinkle over the remaining salt and pepper mixture that you reserved. I served them with noodles and wok-fried pak choy. DM/TGIFood
Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here.
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