Prawns with garlic and chilli
Mum emailed me to say she was going over to the market - what did I feel like for dinner? For some reason I wrote "Prawns!". I'm not sure why, because I didn't have any particular prawn dish in mind; it must've been one of those deep spiritual urges...
So, I came home feeling hungry, and knowing that I wasn't going to spend more than 20 minutes preparing dinner. Prawns are useful in that regard; nothing you're making with prawns is going to take too long to make, unless you're shelling. And then you deserve all you get! Although, I guess you could spend ages rolling them in rice paper parcels with artistically displayed coriander leaves showing through the dough a la Donna Hay.
I found a hopeful-looking recipe in Nigella's How To Eat, which endeared itself to me even more because it was in the Cooking for One & Two people chapter, plus it was a 30 minutes or less to prepare meal. Bonus.
Nigella goes on a bit about being careful with adding salt to the frozen prawns you'll just have to use because you won't be able to get fresh, uncooked prawns. Apparently the saltiness intensifies in the inferior frozen prawns available at fishmongers. Well, huh. I live in Australia, and apparently getting fresh, uncooked prawns is just a matter of pointing at them and specifying how many kilos you want. Nyah!!! :-P It's times like that I realise how fortunate we are. I actually had a cheap prawn curry from the local Burmese takeaway shop last night. Yes, that was prawn curry and Burmese fast food! I love this city.
So, this recipe calls for ~250g raw, unshelled prawns. I had more than that, but went with the general quantities of everything else. 2 cloves of garlic, 100ml white wine, a few fresh chillies, sliced and parsley. You fry up the garlic and chillies and let them cook slowly for a few minutes to infuse the oil and then throw in the prawns for 2 minutes until they turn pink. Slosh in the wine and let it cook another minute or so. There shouldn't be enough liquid for the prawns to start bathing, just enough for a sauce. Taste for salt (fresh prawns might need a little) and throw over the parsley.
Nigella recommends eating the prawns carapace, head and all. Now, I'm a big fan of crunching on prawn tails and I have begun watching in jittery bemusement people who fastidiously leave their prawn tails on their plate. People, there's meat in them tails! They're crunchy like potato chips! And prawn shells are apparently good for lowering cholesterol (convenient excuse, eh?). So, I had no trouble crunching away on the tails and shells. Not so keen on those little legs, which I threw about with abandon. Mum was a bit put out with me that I didn't bother shelling the prawns beforehand, but I guess that's one of the ways you can turn a 30 minute meal into a 1hr 30 minute ordeal.
However, I do draw the line at sucking down prawn brains and eyeballs. No thank you. My brother and I both had a horrid experience burnt into our brain as children when we witnessed an elderly Italian great uncle chomping down on prawn heads during a Christmas dinner, whilst blithely carrying on a conversation with the feelers waving out from his lips and eyeballs dropping onto the plate. My brother is still overcoming this unfortunate experience. And only a few years ago I was peeling a prawn when I didn't accurately judge where the head ended and found my hands covered in brown brainy goo. No more prawns for me that Christmas! So, thanks anyway Nigella, I'll happily go the shells, but no gooey prawn heads for this girl.
Surprisingly, considering I added 2 sliced birds-eye chillies, there was virtually no heat or chilli taste. Quite odd. Nigella only calls for 1, so I thought I was being quite daring. Next time I'd go 3 or even 4 chillies. Another possibility she suggests is to add a tablespoonful of brandy just before adding the wine, which is something I was planning to do, and forgot in the heat of the moment.
Served on a great pile of baby bok choy, this made a surprisingly filling and satisfying meal. Good stuff, and prawns are not that terribly expensive you know, especially in non-peak holiday times, that they really can be a quick dinner alternative for 1 or 2 of you on a weeknight.