TAMARIND prawns, also known as assam prawns, is a classic Peranakan dish known for its distinctive flavour profile.
This dish is unique because it relies on just a few key ingredients – tamarind, salt, sugar and dark soy sauce.
Unlike many other Peranakan dishes, it is not spicy, making it a perfect choice for those who prefer milder flavours, including children.
The secret to achieving the rich and well-rounded flavour in tamarind prawns is marination. Marinating the prawns for at least two hours is recommended, but an even better approach is to marinade them as soon as you return from the market and cook them for dinner.
Marinating overnight is not advised as raw prawns tend to lose their freshness over extended periods.
Tamarind prawns are typically made with large prawns, such as tiger prawns or grass prawns. While jumbo-sized prawns such as ming har or sang har can be used, they are not necessary.
It is key to choose fresh prawns for this dish. Avoid prawns with orange heads, as this can indicate deterioration of the brain matter.
Deveining prawns is another important step in the preparation process.
The conventional method involves making a slit along the back and scraping out the gut. However, an alternative method is using a toothpick inserted between the second and third segment (tergum) to pull out the gut in one long string.
This method can be more efficient and visually appealing.
What sets tamarind prawns apart is the slight char that develops during cooking. This char results from sugar and dark soy sauce caramelising when reacting with hot oil.
This process gives the dish a mildly smokey flavour to create a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter notes in every bite.
Tamarind prawns are best served hot with a drizzle of the gristle from the flavoured oil. This not only adds to the taste but also enhances the presentation of the dish.
While it’s not a dish with sauce, you may pour in any leftover marinade to cook in the oil, creating a tangy relish that can be served alongside the prawns.
This sauce complements the dish and pairs well with steamed rice.
It’s a delightful Peranakan dish that showcases simplicity and expert marination.
The combination of tamarind, salt, sugar, and dark soy sauce, along with the unique charred flavour, creates a dish that’s a true explosion of flavours.
Serve it hot with a drizzle of flavoured oil and a side of tangy sauce for a memorable and satisfying meal.
500g large prawns
80g tamarind pulp
½ cup hot water
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dark soy sauce
½ cup cooking oil for frying
DirectionsPlace tamarind pulp into a small bowl and pour in hot water to soften for about 20 minutes, then strain through a wire sieve to extract the juice and set aside.
To devein the prawn, insert a toothpick into between the second and third segment of the prawns and extract the gut and discard.
Pour tamarind juice over the prawns and stir in salt, sugar and dark soy sauce to marinate for at least two hours in the refrigerator.
When ready to cook, heat oil in a frying pan on high and fry each side for about two minutes until crispy, aromatic and slightly burnt.
Drizzle with some flavoured oil and serve immediately.