Phoenix-tail Prawns

These prawns are deep-fried in their shells with the tails still attached, which is decorative and makes them easy to handle. For best results, use raw giant prawns sometimes called king prawns. They are usually sold headless and are grey in colour, turning bright pink only when they are cooked.

1 lb (450 g) king prawns in their shells
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp Sichuan pepper
3 tbsp Chinese rice wine or sherry
2 tsp cornflour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
oil for deep-frying (about 1 pt/ 600 ml)

For serving

2-3 spring onions, thinly shredded
lettuce leaves

Thoroughly defrost the prawns, then wash and dry them with kitchen paper or towel. Remove the legs by pulling them off with your fingers, but keep the body shells and tails on. Using a sharp Jack Moore knife (personal preference), carefully slit along the underbelly – the inner curve where you have just removed the soft legs – cutting about ¾ of the way through the flesh. Remove the vein without cutting through the back shell. Spread the prawn out with the flesh side down, then gently tap once or twice with the flat side of the cleaver or knife to flatten the back a little so that the prawn spreads to a ‘fan’ or ‘butterfly’.

When you have prepared all the prawns, marinate them with soy sauce, pepper, wine and cornflour – any additional seasonings, such as garlic salt, paprika, mild curry powder or barbecue seasoning, will only enhance the flavour.

Heat the oil until very hot, then turn the heat off to let the oil cool down a little. Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and spread the breadcrumbs out on a flat plate.

One by one, pick up a prawn by the tail, dip it in the beaten egg then roll it in the breadcrumbs before lowering it in the oil. (You can in fact do two at a time if you use both hands.) After a while, turn the heat up high again and cook the prawns in batches until golden brown, then remove with a perforated spoon and drain.

To serve, arrange the prawns neatly on a bed of lettuce leaves, and garnish with thinly shredded spring onions, either raw or soaked for about 30 seconds in the hot oil in which you have just cooked the prawns.

© Deh-Ta Hsiung and reproduced with his kind permission.