I made these with anka prawns, which I came across when I was shopping at the wet market. Here’s a tip: if you buy seafood from the wet market, it pays to get there early, not just to avoid the crowds, but also because you get your pick of the best.
That said, if you go at off-peak hours during the weekdays, when the stall holders are starting to pack up for the day around noon, you may be able to pick up good bargains too.
My favourite time to go is on rainy days, when few customers venture out and hawkers are more open to giving discounts. My method of selection is simple: if the head is firmly in place and the prawn looks appealing, I will take my chances and go for it.
Finicky customers from the prodding school of thought may disagree with my less-than-thorough method, but I have found that when you treat stallholders and their offerings with respect, they are more than happy to help you pick the best from what they have.
Back to the recipe for curry prawns, to which I added Thai basil leaves. They lend their unique aromatic fragrance to the dish. This was a tip I picked up from a colleague’s wife, who is an excellent cook.
Shallots in the spice mixture help to thicken the gravy, such that I find it unnecessary to use coconut milk. You do not have to use too much oil to fry the spice mixture either.
- 6 large prawns (500 g)
- 3 tbs cooking oil
- 250 ml water
- 3 tbs fish sauce
- ¼ tsp salt
- 20 g Thai basil leaves
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, use 5 cm of the white root part
- 2 buah keras (candlenuts)
- 30 g dried chillies
- 2 red finger chillies
- 40 g shallots
- 3 garlic cloves
- 10 g galangal
- 15 g ginger
- 10 g fresh turmeric
- 1 turmeric leaf
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tsp belacan powder
Clean the prawns. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip off the front part of the head, including the feelers, eyes, rostrum (the spiky beak) and the front legs. Set aside in the fridge.
Place ingredients for the spice paste in a grinder and grind into a paste. If using a blender, add a little water to help the blades turn smoothly.
Heat the cooking oil in a wok and, over low heat, fry the spice paste for 10 minutes.
Add the water and let it come to a boil.
Season with fish sauce.
Add the prawns and simmer for eight minutes or until cooked through.
Season with salt.
Garnish with Thai basil leaves.
ABOUT THE CHEF: You can follow Hedy on her Instagram account @hedchefhedykhoo for more of her culinary adventures.
Recipe and text: Hedy Khoo/The Straits Times