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Vietnamese caramelized lemongrass prawns

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

One of my favorite cuisines is Vietnamese, I love the complexity of flavors and the combinations of sweet, sour and spicy. Most folks are familiar with the soup Pho, but there is a world of Vietnamese cuisine that is complex, diverse and delicious. I learnt about this cuisine while visiting Vietnam about 25 years ago, enjoying the cuisine off the street vendors, as well as, in nicer restaurants. The diversity of dishes, the diversity of vegetables, including herbs and greens, but mainly the kindness of the people made it a fantastic trip.

This shrimp dish is absolutely fantastic. This dish belongs to the family of Vietnamese dishes that are slow caramelized and complex, spicy, sweet and luxurious. This recipe is not as complex as the long list of ingredients portrays it to be, but a simple marination and cooking on the grill or pan. As an additional option, I serve these shrimp on small sticky rice cakes so that the rice can absorb the spicy sauce and also add a base to the dish. Together, the shrimp and rice are complex but delicious, the flavors exploding on your palate. I should make this dish more often!

This is a fabulous cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine from the chef and owner of the famed Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco. The recipes are very authentic and every recipe I have cooked from it turns out amazing. I highly recommend this cookbook to those who want to ty and master Vietnamese cooking.

For more wonderful recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the prawns:

1 teaspoon pepper

10-12 shallots, finely minced

2 Thai chilies, finely minced, or more for a spicier version

1 stem lemongrass, finely chopped

10 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon ginger paste

1-2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon annatto powder (optional)

2 tablespoons Chinese black bean paste

2 tablespoons rice wine

6 tablespoons jaggery or palm sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/4 cup water

i tablespoon chili flakes, not powder

1 lb large or jumbo prawns, head and tail on, only tail on or peeled

4-5 tablespoons oil

For the sticky rice cakes:

1 cup Jasmine rice or any sticky rice variety

1/4 cup sliced ginger

Water, as needed

To make the prawns:

Add all the ingredients for the spice blend, from the pepper to the water, to a small blender and purée till smooth. Mix with the pepper flakes and prawns and marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Meanwhile, cook the rice with the ginger in either a rice cooker or on the stove top. When cooked the rice should be sticky and hold together. Make small patties with the rice, I use round cake rings for ease, patting them down so the sticky rice holds together.

After marination, you can cook the shrimp, especially if they are jumbo, on the grill, basting with the left over marinade and oil. Alternatively cook them in a frying pan with the oil till cooked through, you do not want to over cook them and make them chewy, but still retain a bit of the sauce. Load the shrimp on the rice cakes and drizzle some of the sauce on the cakes. Serve immediately while hot.

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