Szechuan Tomato Prawns

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.

w_tomato prawns on dish

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.

w_tomato prawns ingredients

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.

w_tomato prawns in pan


Quack Quack: Peking Duck Wrap Snack

Chinese style duck like Peking or roast duck has always been a favourite of mine. Finding them in Hobart used to be rare and so our family had a little tradition of swinging by City BBQ in Melbourne’s China Town to grab a couple of roast ducks on the way to the airport to catch the return plane ride. Their home-coming would be celebrated immediately with a family dinner of this well-travelled delicious take away roast duck.

The prettiest duck wrap you ever did see...
The prettiest Peking duck wrap you ever did see…

The traditional mandarin pancake is light and delicate. But let’s face it, it’s pretty cold in Hobart right now and I like the idea of a warmer, heavier wrap with a bit more meat in it to go with my beer so I’ve combined a couple of recipes with some modifications to try and recreate a Peking duck wrap I discovered at a travelling food van a while ago.

Note: both the duck and wraps need to be left overnight, so allow preparation time the day before.

The Duck

2.5kg duck

2 Tbs of malt

1.5 Tbs of boiled water

Marinate the duck overnight
Marinate the duck overnight

I’ve always been in awe of the idea of cooking Peking duck, thinking it needed crazy amounts of culinary expertise and equipment, but this recipe from ‘The Food of China’1 has been modified to suit being cooked in a home kitchen and as I discovered is not so scary, just needs time to be prepared and rested before cooking.

Put a large pot of water big enough to hold your duck on to boil. Meanwhile, prepare the duck by rinsing, removing any fat from the cavity opening and neck then cutting the wing tips off and discarding the parsons nose. Plunge the duck into the pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes to tighten the skin. Remove and leave to drain and pat dry. Dissolve the malt with the 1.5 Tbs boiled water and brush the duck all over while the skin is still warm. Traditionally, this would need to be hung up in a dry cool and airy place, but at home, place it on a plate slightly elevated on a rack or in our case a couple of knives and leave uncovered in the fridge for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight.

In a preheated oven at 200 degrees, place the duck breast side up elevated on a rack in a roasting tray. Cook without basting or turning for 1 ½ hours. Cover with foil if the skin looks like it is getting too dark, but be careful of the fat that can spit from the tray when hot. Carve the duck meat with skin into thin slices and put aside.

The duck should be lovely and brown with crispy skin
The duck should be lovely and brown with crispy skin

The Wraps

500g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 cup water

2 tbs condensed milk

2 tbs olive oil spread, at room temperature

½ egg, lightly whisked

Additional olive oil spread

Additional vegetable oil

I tend to shy away from any form of dough that I can’t make in the food processor as I hate getting it all stuck to my hands and bench surface. This Roti Chanai recipe from Poh’s Kitchen, though sticky to start with works into a beautifully soft dough and I’ve added a few tips to lessen the ‘stick effect’ (chefs look away now).

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the centre, poor in the wet (leaving the additional spread and oil). Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir the flour into the wet ingredients grabbing it from the outsides of the well until it is one sticky mixture. Lay a silicone mat on a flat surface and knead the dough (sorry, you’ll get your hands dirty here) until the stickiness subsides and the dough is lovely and soft. Roll it into a log and then divide into 10 equal pieces. Give each one another knead before rolling into a ball and covering with the additional olive oil spread. Lay the dough balls next to each other in a deep dish, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest at room temperature overnight.

Flatten the roti until transparent
Flatten the roti until transparent

Using your silicone mat again, lay one of the balls of dough on it and pressing down with the palm of your hand, flatten and smooth out the surface as much as possible of the dough moving your hand in a circular motion. The dough should be super thin and for these wraps roughly 30-40cm in diameter.

The original recipe forms a square roti, but the wraps need a rectangular shape so fold the dough in roughly a third of the way on either side of the circle with a smear of olive oil spread in between each layer, then fold in the ends to form a rectangle shape. Make sure they’re roughly 10cm wide, a good size to eat comfortably with one hand. On a high heat, pan fry the roti in a little hot vegetable oil until golden blisters appear on both sides. Once cooked, place the roti onto a chopping board and give it a gentle squish from around the edges so the roti bunches up and flakes. Repeat a few times and put aside ready to be served.

Pan fry the roti until golden blisters appear on both sides
Pan fry the roti until golden blisters appear on both sides

To Serve

Cucumber finely sliced lengthways

Spring onion finely sliced lengthways

125ml hoisin sauce

Salad greens

Edible flowers

Finely sliced cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce
Finely sliced cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce

While the roti is still warm, lay it flat and spread a fine dollop of hoisin over one side. Lay a few pieces of duck meat in the centre with the cucumber and spring onion. Gently roll the wrap up and lay on a bed of salad greens and garnish with edible flowers or in this case, grab a stunning salad mix from Provenance Growers at the Farmgate Market on Sundays.

Peking duck wrap snack!
Peking duck wrap snack!


1 The Food of China Hsiung and Simonds Murdoch Books 2001