It is true, what they say – first you get something, and then you find a use for it. So now that the big black monster of an oven is sitting in the kitchen, it seems problematic not to use it for something. Cakes, well, they’re nice the first three times round. Sunday roast cuts can be difficult to obtain, and in any case potatoes aren’t a family staple and what’s cooking for if not the family?
So prawns it is. I like prawns – they are one of the few things Singapore has that you really need to look hard to find in London, big succulent white shrimp (not tiger prawns) that go brilliant coral rather than the equivocal pink that smaller shrimp grudgingly give when cooked. Once that centrepiece is in place, the rest is mostly playing by ear; suffice to say I was looking for something a little Thai.
The first attempt at this was problematic; trying to find the right time for cooking prawns in an oven turns out to be surprisingly difficult, and we ended with something edible but rather too dry. Here is the improved version, where the prawns kindly provide a nice rounded savour to the tartness of the limes, all in a handy liquid for drizzling on white rice or noodles.
Oven-baked Foil-wrapped Thai-ish Prawns
Serves: 4 to 6
A partial list
12 big shrimp, snipped, disarmed, and deveined (I’ll explain this)
100 g enoki mushrooms, torn into little clumps
2 tablespoons cooking oil or butter
6 to 7 cloves of garlic, halved
2 shallots, sliced
4 to 5 sprigs of spring onion, cut into finger-length strips
Thumb’s worth of ginger, sliced
2 to 3 bird’s eye chillies, chopped (optional; substitute for large mild red chillies, or leave out, to taste)
1.5 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice liquor or sherry (if using sherry, just use 1 tablespoon sugar)
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoons oyster sauce
Juice of 4 to 5 limes (throw the juiced wedges in as well)
1. Mix the seasonings together and put aside. Line a baking dish with foil.
2. Drizzle the oil on the inside of the foil, then arrange the chillies, spring onion, ginger, shallots, lime wedges and garlic.
3. Arrange the prawns on top of the bed of stuff, then place enoki mushrooms between the prawns.
4. Drizzle the seasoning mix over the lot. Wrap up the foil package and bake in the oven for 200 degrees, for 20 minutes.
5. Open the foil package. No, really.
I’m a little conflicted about the possible role of cornstarch in this. Usually prawns are stir-fried where I come from, and adding a little cornstarch to the prawns – as with any meat – helps retain the succulence of the meat and withstand the high, intense heat of the wok. But since we’re not exactly exposing the prawns to high, intense heat in this case, I thought I’d leave it out. It works – the prawns are still succulent – but maybe a teaspoon of cornstarch, rubbed onto the prawns, might improve their texture. Do try it.