The Peranakans or Nyonyas are the descendants of the early Chinese migrants to Malaysia who settled in the country and married the local Malays. They have maintained their distinct culture including their culinary traditions.
Like the Malays, the Nyonyas have a penchant for hot and spicy food and use a diverse mix of ingredients to create recipes that are unique to them. One of these ingredients is tamarind, a sweet and sour fruit that is widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, and which is featured in this recipe.
Either large shrimps or prawns may be used to make this dish. Just to be clearer, large shrimps are not necessarily prawns; shrimps and prawns are actually different animals.
In some regions, including Southeast Asia, fresh shrimps and prawns are sold with the heads intact. You will not be using the heads in this recipe. You can, however, pound and simmer them to make shrimp broth for use in a soup dish.
- 1 kilogram large shrimps or prawns
- 6 tablespoons tamarind pulp
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- Prepare the shrimps or prawns. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut a slit along the back of each prawn to expose the black thread that runs along the length of the body. The black thread is the animal's digestive system. Pull it out and discard. Leave the shells and tails intact. Rinse the shrimps or prawns and dry them carefully and thoroughly with paper towels.
- Prepare the tamarind pulp. Place the tamarind pulp in a bowl and pour in about two tablespoons of hot water. After the tamarind pulp has softened, use either your fingers or a spoon to loosen up the tamarind pulp so that it mixes with the water and becomes a thick gravy. Use a colander to sift the tamarind juice, making sure not to leave out the tamarind seeds and the stingy fibers.
- Stir the salt and sugar into the tamarind pulp.
- Place the prepared shrimps or prawns in a shallow bowl. Pour the tamarind mixture over them. Mix. Cover and allow to marinade in the fridge for two to three hours.
- In a wok or frying pan, heat the cooking oil until fine wisps of smoke float on the surface.
- Add the marinated shrimps or prawns to the hot oil. Scrape off any marinade from the bowl and add to the pan as well.
- Fry the shrimps or prawns over extremely high heat until the mixture is quite dry. The prawns are ready when they look slightly burnt.