My family and I just returned home from a trip to Reno. When in Reno, we always hit up the Peppermill Casino seafood buffet. Like all good seafood buffets, it was mostly patronized by Vietnamese folks. There were a dozen Vietnamese families all waiting in the hour-long line with us. I think it's built into our DNA to detect good seafood buffets at good prices. Need to find a good buffet? Ask a Vietnamese.
One of the many items I was able to sample was the deep-fried salt and pepper prawns. It was so tasty that I had to make the dish as soon as I got home. The prawn is deep fried whole with a light corn starch coating. The crispy prawns are then quickly tossed in a hot wok with garlic, jalapenos, and shallots then sprinkled with salt and pepper. The smell of the prawns right off the wok was intoxicating. I helped myself to a couple of prawns before it even made it to the table. I thought I had to peel the shrimp, but the shell, head, legs and tail were so crunchy that it wasn't necessary. I simply used the crispy tail as a handle to pop the whole thing in my mouth like a crispy potato chip. It was delicious, particularly the head. If you have never tried fried shrimp head, I feel for you.
Vietnamese Salt & Pepper Prawns Recipe (Tom Rang Muoi)
Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
25-30 large head-on shell-on prawns
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated white sugar
Vegetable oil for frying
1 -2 jalapenos or chili peppers (optional; slice thin)
2 cloves garlic (peel and slice thin)
2 small shallots (peel and slice thin)
1 bunch scallions (4-6 sprigs; slice into 1/2 inch segments)
Prep the prawns by cutting off the whiskers and sharp point on the head with a pair of scissors. Remove the vein by inserting a toothpick into the flesh of the prawn that is underneath the vein. Slowly pull the toothpick up. Vein should come out easily with the toothpick.
In a wok or pot, heat vegetable oil to about 350 degrees F for deep frying.
In a small pan, dry roast the salt and pepper. Like all spices, dry roasting oomphs up the flavor. Dry roast the salt and pepper until you start coughing uncontrollably from the wisps of pepper in the air (about 3-5 minutes). Mix the roasted salt and pepper with sugar. Set aside.
Dredge each prawn in corn starch and tap off excess.
Deep fry prawns in batches. Prawns should cook up in 1-2 minutes. Transfer the fried prawns onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
In a separate large wok or pan, add about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and heat on medium high.
Add jalapeno/chili peppers, garlic, shallot and scallion. Saute until fragrant (2-3 minutes).
Add fried prawns and sprinkle the salt-pepper-sugar mixture onto the prawns and lightly toss.