Thu 14 Jan 2016

Food Without Fuss: Proper Prawns


These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the New Year selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

I was once moved to pen a Food for Thought piece titled A Recipe for Disaster. It was a rant about cooking instructions that don’t make sense.

Try, for example, preheating a superfast fan-assisted oven before defrosting your meat or adding the stock which you suddenly find (in brackets) you should have made by roasting and simmering veal bones for four hours. Good luck with marshalling ingredients that don’t feature in the method, and vice versa. These are merely the tip of an undefrostable iceberg for titanic kitchen egos.

A very famous name has the prize for my favourite blooper of all time: an instruction to simmer some mushrooms for exactly twenty minutes – and then throw them away. The importance of reserving the cooking water for stock went – you’ve guessed it – down the drain.

I do see that successful chefs may take for granted boxes ticked by their large brigades but I strongly suggest that if they intend to break into publishing, they should consider adding to their smoke-boxes, dry-ice dispensers and foam aerosols the magnifying glass, nit-comb and big red pen any sense-checker needs. A chef de cuisine does not a Chief Sub make.

I know from experience just how easy it is to add or omit a zero or to insert a ghost k before a g. I try hard, but even when I get it right, a gremlin in my laptop occasionally likes to undermine my authority by mischievously replacing the degree (Centigrade) symbol with, of all things, a question mark. Fortunately, gimlet eyes and better technical skills than mine at HQ spare my blushes, and the odd escapee, swiftly picked up by members at least reassures me that you are actually reading my work!

Earlier this year I attended a Guardian workshop on food writing, wherein the excellent food journalist Felicity Cloake, who must get as frustrated as I do, stressed the importance of checking one’s recipes. In an ironic twist, I recently read the following, in the same paper’s Corrections and Clarifications section:

“A recipe for kedgeree among our 10 best all-day egg recipes… listed the wrong amounts for the haddock, rice, water, curry powder and salt…”

Finally, I think I understand the expression ‘as sure as eggs is eggs.’

Nothing, however, prepared me for the clutch of Bordelais tapas recipes we presented in our Christmas Sauternes spread and which I hope members enjoyed trying as much as I ended up having to, if only to make sense of them.

These recipes originated at a brilliantly conceived Bordeaux tapas-and-sweet-wine workshop, whence some inspirational ideas emerged from top traiteurs. Clearly, you had to be there, as I wasn’t. Unfortunately, the only written records, posted online, are variously missing weights, measures, oven temperatures and cooking times, number of servings and, in some cases, even the ingredients mentioned in the name of the dish. The world of private catering is competitive if not cut-throat. What a clever way of withholding trade secrets!

Having deconstructed and reassembled the least baffling of the recipes for The Society’s website, I have saved my favourite until now. Not because it was the one in least need of sub-editing (it was), but because we all need a bit of glamour in January. All I added were a suggestion for cooking the prawns and a serving idea.

Prawns with cardamom vanilla and coconutAn amuse-bouche with a wow factor, the recipe below is blissfully easy. The components are prepared in advance, chilled and assembled just before serving.

What’s more it’s the perfect freezer and store-cupboard standby and, although it was designed to match a Sauterenes or Barsac, it works equally well with any number of the aromatic whites in this New Year Wine Without Fuss selection.

What more could you ask from a recipe? Proper instructions, that’s what. I have done my level best here, and if that web-gremlin is not on a well-earned winter break, I will simultaneously hang up my quill, my tastevin AND my cook’s knife.

Janet Wynne Evans


Olivier Straehli has written a number of cookery books, including one dedicated to that Bordeaux über-bun the cannelé. He also presides over the kitchen at La Maison des 5 Sens in Bordeaux – not a restaurant but an espace culturelle dedicated to the pleasures of the senses. Here he combines sweetness, spice and richness to delicious effect, all eminently absorbable by a sweet wine and spice-friendly whites like gewurztraminer,and viognier and rich chardonnays.

M. Straehli’s instructions are merely to cook your prawns so I have taken the liberty of sharing my preferred method of roasting them with a little sesame oil. I do hope he approves, both of that and my presentation. If not, I had better practice my most elegant Gallic shrug.

Serves 8 as a tapa, 4 as a starter

Note: you’ll need four ramekins for starter portions, or, for tapas, eight 5cl shot glasses and a ready supply of cocktail sticks, which can snap very easily if you’re excited!

• 16 tiger prawns, defrosted if frozen
• 2 tablespoons of sunflower or similarly neutral oil
• a scant teaspoon of toasted sesame oil
• a handful of baby onions or very slim shallots, finely sliced
• 200ml coconut milk
• 150ml full fat crème fraîche
• a vanilla pod, split
• 5 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
• a green or red medium-strength chilli (jalapeño is about right), deseeded and very finely chopped
• 1 lime
• 16 photogenic coriander leaves, washed and dried, to decorate

Firstly, deal with the prawns.> Remove heads and all shells, including the tail. With the point of a knife, make a cut along the back and remove all traces of the black digestive tract. I always feel better for having done that. Give them a good rinse in two lots of well-salted water (an excellent tip from Ken Hom). Pat them with kitchen paper and leave them on a plate until completely dry.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 7. Put the prawns in a small roasting dish. Add half the sunflower oil and all the sesame oil and season well with salt and pepper. With clean hands, make sure every prawn is well coated. Roast for just 6-8 minutes until the prawns are pink, opaque and firm to the touch. Set them aside to cool, and once they have done so, refrigerate them until you are ready to assemble the tapas.

In a frying pan, heat the rest of the sunflower oil and brown the onions or shallots. They should be golden and crisp. Lift them out and let them drain on kitchen paper.

Give the pan a wipe before adding the coconut milk, crème fraîche, vanilla and cardamom, along with half the diced chilli. Bring up to a simmer and let this mixture reduce gently to half its volume, tasting as you go. It may need a little seasoning, but remember that the prawns will be quite salty and toasty.

Once it tastes right – rich, creamy, subtly spice and hauntingly sweet – fish out the vanilla pod and count out the cardamoms. Stir in the rest of the diced chilli and finish with the juice of half a lime, adding a little more if you feel it’s needed.

Divide the mixture into 8 shot glasses or 4 ramekins. Sprinkle with the reserved onion ringlets, and put in the fridge to chill and thicken.

An hour before serving, remove your components from the fridge for the fun part. For the ramekins, arrange four prawns jauntily on top of the sauce, interleaved with the coriander leaves. For the shot-glass option, impale a coriander leaf, glossy side up, with a cocktail stick, add a prawn, then another coriander leaf and a second prawn. Your ‘kebab’ should stand up nicely in the glass without touching the sauce. Repeat the operation seven times.

Equip your guests with little teaspoons so that every morsel of the sauce can be scraped up and savoured. Oh, and do grant permission to lick fingers and glasses at table.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss


  1. Carolyn Heathcote says:

    Looks a really good recipe. Pity you don’t have a print option on the page though I have managed to copy and paste it into a Word document.

  2. Martin Cannon says:

    Please tell me the ‘200?C’ was deliberate!

  3. T. Donaghy says:

    Excellent recipe especially where I reside in coastal spicey and sparky as your food and wine Diva

  4. peter says:

    Young Wynne Evans always writes good stuff, and here again.

    Has anyone noticed that most of the stodgy old blogs served up to us on this site get zero comment feedback, . . . . . . . . . except for WE’s! We need more writing from her, and more and shorter zippy stuff from the other contributers. Moreover, there needs to be a facility whereby ordinary ‘joe soap’ members like me can start new threads which might make the whole thing a bit more lively. At present the WS has a bit too much of the air of a crematorium about it, Smell the Pouilly fume, anyone?

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks for the honest if not necessarily civil feedback, which we take duly on the chin. I’m pleased to say that such a facility as you describe is very much in the works, and we welcome any constructive tips for it. Best regards
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

Leave a comment