No Gods, No Masters, Only Garlic Prawns

450g prawns

1 bulb garlic

3-5 spring onions

3 birds eye chillies

1 to 1-1/2 tsp corn starch

1 bunch (3 heads) bok choy

1 bunch broccolini

1-2 cups water (approx – will depend on the size of your pan)

1 tbsp fresh ground white pepper

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1/2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp vegetable oil

Slice 3 spring onions into 3 inch batons, reserving the rest for later. Peel prawns, put shells, heads and sliced spring onions into 1 tbsp hot oil in a saucepan just large enough to hold all in a single layer. Saute and, once browned, cover just over with water. Let this boil rapidly away, uncovered,  while you de-vein and butterfly the prawn meat and do the rest of the prep. If it starts to boil dry, top back up to halfway up the shells with fresh water.

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Finely slice the chilli and spring onions. By the time you have done the rest of the prep (approx 10-20 mins after starting the prawn shells in the water) the prawn shells should have given up enough of their flavour into the water – it should be pinkish-orange and almost milky. Though gross-sounding, this = plenty of flavour. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the shells, heads and spring onions. Allow to cool to room temperature, then stir in corn starch, rice vinegar, sugar and soy sauce. Whisk in the corn starch until incorporated and no lumps remain. You may have to whisk this up again just before you add it to the prawns in a later step.

Set a small pan of water to boil, and once boiling, set a wok to heat until shimmering. While waiting for the wok to come up to temperature, add the sliced broccolini to the boiling water and and cook until just tender, approx 3-5 mins. Remove, and add the bok choy and cook until just tender, approx 1-2 mins..

Meanwhile, in the hot wok, add the oil the garlic, spring onions and chilli and then the prawns, seasoning with the salt and pepper and making sure to constantly toss/stir to prevent the prawns and the aromatics from sticking and burning. Once the prawns have started to open up and the aromatics are starting to caramelise, add the greens to the wok and toss for a minute, and add the prawn bisque/cornstarch/soy/sugar/vinegar decoction. Stir fry and toss until the prawns are blushing pink and the sauce has thickened to coat the ingredients, and everything is looking glossy and amalgamated.

Garnish wih fresh green herbs such as spring onion or coriander. Serve with steamed rice. Ridiculously tasty.

Optional variations: this dish is garlic prawns – its supposed to be garlicky as f_ck. But if this is too much garlic, feel free to cut it back to half a bulb, or whatever suits your palate. Additionally, the chilli is optional – I will always opt for chilli, but if it isn’t your jam, instead add just a half teaspoon of dried chilli flakes or, again, enough to suit your palate (which may well be none.) Additionally, this would probably be pretty dang delicious with a 1 or 2 inch piece of finely sliced ginger.

Simmering the prawn shells and heads in the water to create that simple bisque is what really pumps up the flavour in this dish, rather than just making a simple slurry of water and cornstarch for the sauce, but – theoretically – you could omit this step. As it is doable while you do the rest of the prep, I would suggest you wouldn’t save a lot of time by omitting it, and the flavour it adds is A+. But if you need to cut out a little labour, you could theoretically substitute a cup or so of stock, or just plain water for a nearly similar result.

Also – people will tell you that you should add sesame oil as a seasoning only, as cooking in it breaks down a lot of the volatile flavour compounds in the oil. This is true, but it does still impart a whack of flavour in the cooking. If you wanted to stir fry in a combination of flavoured oils, or stir a little in at the end, go nuts.

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