Since our niece (who is allergic to seafood) was out of the house for the night, I decided to make hay while the sun shone. That is, I decided to fry up some prawns. So I went down to the Asian Market on Broadway, picked up some meaty prawns and some pea shoots. With good fresh ingredients, I think preparation should be simple, letting the ingredients stand out.
The pea shoots aren't usually available; according to Bruce Cost they have a short shelf life, turning tough and bitter if consumed too long after they've been picked. In his marvelous Asian Ingredients, Cost recommends cooking the pea shoots with a little sugar, salt and rice wine. I added two, small, thinly sliced cloves of garlic. Like other leafy greens, the shoots wilt considerably when fried, losing about half to two-thirds of their volume.
I decided to cook the prawns in their shell. A recipe I have enjoyed time and again is Blonder and Low's Pan-Fried Prawns in Ketchup Sauce from their Every Grain of Rice. This cookbook is every bit as enjoyable as Blonder's very fine Dim Sum, which I've mentioned in previous posts. Americans tend to avoid getting down and dirty when eating, preferring their prawns shelled. But the shells not only help the prawns retain their moisture, they also provide flavor. By cutting through the shell and deveining the prawn, but not removing the shell, you have a colorful, flavorful dish that is still ridiculously easy to eat.
Pan-Fried Prawns in Ketchup Sauce
1 pound prawns in the shell
2 TBS ketchup
1 TBS oyster sauce
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 TBS vegetable oil
2 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
With a sharp knife, cut each prawn through the shell just far enough to expose the sand vein down the back. Remove the sand vein. Rinse the prawns and pat them dry. (This step is important, otherwise the prawns will not brown properly.) Cut off the sharp point from the tails, but leave the rest of the shell intact.
In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, oyster sauce, white pepper, and sesame oil and set aside.
Place a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the tablespoon of vegetable oil. Place the prawns in the pan in a single layer. Brown on one side, then turn and brown on the other. Lower the heat to medium, add the ketchup mixture, and stir to coat the prawns well. Add the green onions and continue to cook just long enough to bring out the color of the onions, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.