Okay – I am not telling you anything new by saying spot prawn season is upon us. But HOLY SHIT – SPOT PRAWN SEASON IS UPON US!!!
I cannot think of a local seafood more universally beloved. Everyone has them on their menu (the wok seared soy prawns at Sea Harbour are fucking genius). What’s particularly glorious is watching people buying them by the bagful on the docks to enjoy at home. It’s part of the mythology of living in Vancouver.
My favorite way of cooking them is going to sound shameful and disgusting, but anyone who grew up with in a Hong Kong household will know what I am talking about.
It’s not a joke. They are completely fantastic – wok stir fried, shells blistered from super high heat, glazed with a lightly sweet and sour sauce that takes on the briny bisque-y-ness of the prawn heads. Toss in some aromatic herbs and you are in fucking heaven. I don’t have a recipe – more of a method.
First off the prawns MUST be live before you cook them. The sweetness and firmness of live prawns are unparalleled. Next, trim off the sharp beards and legs from prawn. Makes for much neater cooking and eating. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt the prawns. They are wriggling because it tickles so delightfully.
Get a large pan – cast iron or stainless steel. If you’ve got a wok and a proper burner, go for it. Get that pan hot. I mean really seriously hot.
Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and let it shimmer, toss in slices of ginger and garlic for a quick stir around to flavor the oil. Then add the prawns – the shells should blister and sizzle. You want it HOT. Stir around a bit – now add a 2 or 3 tablespoons of ketchup (I use a spicy Malaysian ketchup from T&T), resisting the temptation of adding too much. Start stir frying.
You want ketchup to glaze and caramelize. Now add some aromatics, chopped green onion and cilantro are traditional. A good fistful of finely chiffonade kaffir lime leaves or lemon grass would not be a bad choice either.
Serve with some rice on the side to sop up the sauce – and there you go. Hong Kong style ketchup prawns.