Eric Akis: Hot, crispy prawns, ready for dunking

Eric Akis

If you’re in the mood for a seafood treat, it’s hard to go wrong with coconut prawns. Hot, golden, crispy and, because of that coconut, rich-tasting — all made even more inviting when the prawns are dunked into a gingery plum sauce.

To prepare the peeled prawns, you start by butterflying them, a process in which the prawns are split down the middle and pressed flat. Butterflying the prawns creates more surface area for the coating and gives them an attractive look when cooked.

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The next steps include making a tempura-style batter in a bowl, and combining unsweetened coconut flakes and panko, coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs, on a plate.

To coat the prawns, you dip them in the batter, then set them on the coconut/panko mixture, pressing it on to help it adhere. The prawns are then fried and served with the easy-to-make dipping sauce, which uses plum sauce, sold in the Asian foods aisle of grocery stores, as its base.

Serve the prawns as an appetizer or main course, accompanied with steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables.

The recipe yields 24 prawns. If that’s too many, fry all the prawns and let the ones you don’t want to eat now cool to room temperature. Then freeze those prawns solid on a plate, transfer them to a freezer bag and keep frozen.

When you feel like having some again, heat the frozen prawns on a baking pan in a 350F oven for 10 minutes or so, or until hot. Any leftover dipping sauce could also be frozen, to thaw and served at another time.

Butterflied Coconut Prawns with Plum Ginger Sauce

Rich with coconut, golden, crispy prawns served with a sweet and tangy plum dipping sauce flavoured with ginger and chili sauce.

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: about 9 to 12 minutes
Makes: 24 prawns

1 cup plum sauce (I used VH brand)

2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar

1/2 to 1 tsp sriracha or other hot Asian-style chili sauce, or to taste

24 large prawns (or shrimp), peeled, deveined and patted dry (see Note)

1/2 cup water

1 large egg yolk

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup unsweetened, medium coconut flakes

1/2 cup panko

vegetable or peanut oil, for frying

To make the sauce, combine plum sauce, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar and sriracha in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate sauce until needed.

To butterfly prawns, make a deep, lengthwise slit along the back of each prawn, being careful not to cut all the way through. Spread prawns open and set cut side down on a work surface. Press on the prawns to flatten and butterfly them.

Combine water, egg yolk and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until a smooth batter forms. Combine coconut and panko on a wide plate. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set a wire rack over a second baking sheet.

Holding on to the tail of a prawn, dip it into the batter. Pull it out and let the excess batter drip away. Set the prawn on the coconut/panko mixture and coat on both sides, pressing it on to help it adhere. Set prawn on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining prawns. (You can coat the prawns an hour or so in advance of frying them. Keep refrigerated, not touching, until ready to do so.)

Heat the oil in your deep fryer to 350 F (see Eric’s options). Preheat oven to 200 F.

Fry prawns, in batches of four or so, until crispy and golden, about 90 seconds to two minutes. Drain on paper towel, and then set on the wire rack above the second baking sheet. Set the baking sheet in the oven to keep the prawns warm while you fry the rest.

When prawns are all cooked, arrange them on a platter with a bowl of the plum ginger sauce for dipping.

Note: Raw prawns (and shrimp) are sold by count; the number of them you’ll find in a pound. The ones I used were 21 to 25 count. To peel a prawn, hold the end of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab onto its swimmerets, the little legs under the shell. Pull off the shell, leaving the very bottom portion of the tail intact. If the prawns were not sold deveined, use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of each prawn. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein, if there is one, pat the prawns dry, and they’re ready to use.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a deep fryer, set four or so inches of oil into an eight-inch or so wide pot. Set over medium-high heat and warm oil to 350 F. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that temperature. Carefully fry prawns, in batches, as described in the recipe. Keep a close on eye on the prawns and the hot oil while frying them.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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