Chinese- Mexican onion prawns.
(Based on Becky’s recipe)
2 pounds of clean whole raw prawns in their shell
2 or 4 whole green onions with chives (as big as possible, I’ve found some great ones at Orinda’s farmer market)
1 or ½ garlic head (all chopped in very small pieces, so all can fit in 1/3 cup)
¼ cup of light Chinese or Japanese soy sauce (must be the light and kind of acid one, not the black thick and salty one. But you can add an splash of rice vinegar if yours is too salty)
2 cup of chicken, or bonito stock. My mother makes her own chicken stock. But if you don’t have it, you can use the cube ones. You can find msg free stock cubes. Do not use canned American broth. Is too sweet and it might ruin the flavor. For the party, I’ve used my own chicken stock.
½ pint of water
1 Or as many fresh chilies you want. My mother’s original recipe asks for two Serrano chilies. For a less aggressive taste, you can use jalapeno chilies or bell peppers. If you want to blew your mind (and your stomach) use habanero or manzano chilies. For the party, I’d used red yellow and green chili peppers from some friend’s garden. You can find the same ones at Orinda’s farmers market.
1 Teaspoon of black peppercorns.
¼ cup of peanut, olive or sesame oil. For the party, I used cooking grade olive oil. My mother uses a mix of peanut and sesame oil.
Very sharp cutting knife
Chinese wok or deep pan
Small bowls for separate the chopped ingredients.
Measuring cups in all sizes
Chinese Ladle and spatula
Metallic hand strainer
Select the best chives and chop them finely.
Chop the onions separate from the chives in very thin slices.
At the end, you will have 1 ½ cups of chopped chives, and ½ cup of onion slices. Keep them separate in the small bowls, and keep apart the chives that don’t look very cute (the broken ones, the dried ends, the yellowish ones; etc.)
Spare up to five garlic cloves.
Chop finely the rest of the garlic.
Cut the chilies in half and take off all the pits (seeds?) and veins. Then, cut them in long, very thin “Juliana” cut. They will look like very thin green pieces of vermicelli or spaghetti.
Be careful with your hands, try to not manipulate these chilies for a long time, or your hands may be in pain for the rest of the evening…
Boil the water with the chicken or bonito broth with the peppercorn teaspoon, the ugly chives, the five garlic cloves (you can brake both garlic and chives, so the flavor come trough the skin) and about the half ¼ cup of soy sauce. Keep the rest of the sauce.
You can add more salt or soy sauce if you like saltier flavor.
Once the broth is ready and boiling hard, add the cleaned unpeeled prawns (my mother leave the whole prawn, head, shell and tail, but for the party, I leaved just the tail).
Cook them lightly in the broth until they come pink and yet, transparent (about two or three minutes or less). Do not cook them all the way! That will make them rubbery and tasteless.
Pick the prawns with the hand strainer, and keep the broth in a side.
In a deep frying pan or a Chinese wok, add some cooking oil and heat it until it smokes a little bit.
Add the sliced onion. Use both ladle and spatula with both hands for stirring the onions.
When they start to smell good, add the garlic and the chilies. Keep moving all the ingredients.
After that, when the smell gets spicier, add ½ cup of the broth. Keep moving the stuff.
Then, add the prawns and cook them for one minute more or less.
Add the chives and then, the rest of the soy sauce.
By the time you finished all these steps, your prawns will be fully cooked, so take the pan or wok off the fire and serve them.
If you want o serve them cool, let the prawns rest at the counter until they’re cool enough to go to the fridge. If you put them in your fridge before they cool off, they’ll become acid and chewy.
My mother, Becky, serve this prawns with white Chinese style jasmine rice and steamed baby bok choy.
The original recipe was cooked several times by my great grand father and his friends, but some times he used other seafood, not just prawns. I do remember we had some kind of snake with this very same recipe!
My friend, Li Chen Xuang, from Szechuan, use up to one pound of chives and Serrano chilies. And no prawns at all!
But I’ve had something like this recipe in Ping Gu (west of Beijing).
The Mexican-Chinese twist come with the use of fresh green Serrano chilies. The Chinese recipe uses less garlic, even more chives and different kinds of chilies. Usually, the red dried ones.
I have the feeling that this recipe is a little bit like a Casserole in European food culture. Add this and that and use what you momma used.
But the important thing Mexican and Chinese culinary culture have in common is the long preparation (chopping, peeling, pre cooking and slicing) and the very fast execution of the actual cooking. The use of a chef’s pan or a Chinese wok become part of the “show”, because you have t use either one hand for shake everything, or the Chinese ladle and spatula (usually they come with the wok if you buy a Chinese cooking set).
Enjoy this recipe of my dearest mother, and feel free to add and change it as much as you want.