Prawn and garlic.
Prawn and garlic.
Image: Yang Zhao

My deep cravings for prawns come in waves. I go for a while without thinking about them, then suddenly, the need will rush in overnight, overtaking all suppertime ideas. All I can think about is how to flip and switch, to cook them in all the ways imaginable. I recently discovered a small fishmonger in my neighbourhood that serves fresh seafood from Mozambique — no more landlocked, frozen-prawn life.

I have a deep love for our neighbour Mozambique: the people, the food, the sunshine, the summer monsoons, the beaches, the fish market ...  When in Maputo, I love visiting the fish market (mercado do peixe). As far as I know, it’s the largest fresh-fish market in the city. You can order your seafood at a vendor and ask someone to cook it for you while enjoying a beer. Fire-roasted red snapper or boiled crab drenched in a parsley citrusy dressing. The prawns are so fresh, you can taste the crunch — no powdery texture.

Prawns from the Indian ocean are vastly different to the ones I’m used to. Near the Pearl River Delta, where I grew up, the prawns live where the river meets the ocean, formally known as the South China Sea. They are much smaller and a lot  sweeter — there’s a lot less ocean in them. In comparison to tiger prawns from our shores, they’ve seen the ocean, they’ve swum in the wild waves, weathered storms, and they taste like their home, “salty like the sea”.

Prawn and garlic have enjoyed a long and great marriage that is still going strong, with chilli, lemon, and butter as witnesses to their union. You can find this combo in cuisines across the world. It’s so simple to prepare, 30 minutes at most.

The recipe I’m sharing here uses a Cantonese-style garlic sauce. In Hong Kong, people like to stir fry sea prawns, with copious garlic sauce and a small amount of chilli, sugar, salt and soy. It’s delicious, easy and quick to prepare.

Cantonese style garlic sauce with chili.
Cantonese style garlic sauce with chili.
Image: Yang Zhao

Ingredients:

  • 500g or 12 king tiger prawns, gutted and deveined
  • 2 whole garlic or 16 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk spring onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of soy
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ½ water
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine or Shaoxing wine

Method:

  1. In a medium sized pot, bring water to boil, enough to cover the prawns for blanching, add Shaoxing wine; blanch for 2 minutes, until prawns are about to change colour, remove, set aside
  2. In a wok, heat oil, add garlic, lower heat, add salt and let it simmer for about 3 minutes, add sugar and chilli, and let it simmer for about 2 minutes; don’t be surprised if your kitchen accidentally smells amazing
  3. Turn up heat to high, add prawn into garlic sauce, turn constantly to make sure that the prawns are evenly cooked, for about 3 minutes
  4. Lower heat again, add soy and water, lid on and let it simmer for another 2 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle spring onion, and serve hot.
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