My relationship with Chinese cuisine has been one I’ve taken for granted. Our Australian-born Chinese mum was a passionate and naturally superb cook. We grew up with whatever style of food Mum decided was her latest obsession and Chinese food was just one of many cuisines that had just always been a part of my life. Until I left home, it wasn’t ‘Chinese’ food to me. It was just food.
When I moved interstate away from my family (and Mum’s cooking), I had to not only learn to cook better, but try and understand what it was I was cooking. Family favourite dishes had become my substitute for time with my family. I’d grown up surrounded by Mum, my Aunties and Grandmum who were all excellent cooks. Sure I’d helped prepare meals and certainly helped eat them, but I hadn’t paid enough attention to how they were created and often my first attempts at making them failed miserably.
Szechuan Tomato Prawns, or Tomato Prawns as we know it by, was one of the first dishes I tried to re-create. My Aunty gave me the basic recipe over the phone while I was standing in the Chinese grocery store trying to decipher random cans. I’m not sure if I was disappointed or relieved to hear that the magic ingredient was actually plain old tomato sauce, but regardless of its simplicity, this dish has wowed many of my friends into thinking I am a much better cook than I am. I’ll also add here for the purists freaking out that real Chinese cooking would never have tomato sauce – as with many home cooks, Mum’s cooking was always a version of something else and she would add random things as she felt like it. Her Chinese food was no exception.
300g whole king prawns
4 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp tomato ketchup
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tsp cornflour
1 red chilli finely diced
½ Tsp honey
A slice of fresh ginger
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 spring onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste
A few notes before you get started…
- The dish is cooked quickly on a high heat, so make sure you have everything prepared ready to go. Its also best made just before you’re ready to serve it.
- This recipe is for king prawns, but if your husband comes home with tiger prawns like the day I made this to take pictures of, just roll with it.
- Mum always kept the prawns whole saying the head and shell gave the dish extra flavour. I still prefer the dish this way, but if you’re like my siblings and don’t like getting their hands dirty to eat them you can substitute with peeled prawns.
- If your fresh chilli isn’t a hot one, add a small pinch of dried chill while you’re frying up. For children, I find the fresh chilli adds flavour without the heat.
- I’ve used walking onions instead of spring onions. No biggie, it’s just what we had growing in the garden.
Slice your spring onions across the round for the white part, then length ways up the green in about 5cm lengths.
In a small bowl, whisk together the water, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, cornflour, honey, chilli and ginger.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok or frying pan over a high heat. Test the heat with a bit of spring onion. If it bubbles quickly, its ready to go. Add the spring onions, chilli and garlic and fry off gently for a minute.
Add the prawns to the pan and toss a little, coating with the oil until they are starting to turn pink. Add the sauce to the wok and heat gently until the sauce thickens and the prawns are prink all over and cooked through. Very large prawns take a little longer to cook and if your sauce starts to dry up, add a little more water but not too much.
Serve immediately with a good helping of freshly cooked rice and Chinese broccoli.