This intense, flavor-packed, Vietnamese classic was actually introduced to me at a popular night spot in New York’s Chinatown. Judging by the hour long wait outside with a throng of hungry locals, I figured the food must be pretty good. My brother told me we had to get their specialty, salt and pepper prawns with the head on. It was so delicious, it has stuck with me ever since, and spawned a mild obsession to recreate it. These shrimp are meant to be eaten whole, body, shell, head, everything. More often than not, they are deep fried, but after trying it both ways, we actually prefer pan frying them in less oil.
1 lb “head on” shrimp (in shell with head attached)
1/8-1/4 cup cornstarch – enough to lightly coat shrimp
2 tbs peanut oil for sautéing
¼ cup minced onion
1 ½ tablespoons minced jalapeno
10 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 finely chopped scallions
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly cracked pepper
To prepare shrimp, cut off long whiskers and sharp point on the top of the head using kitchen shears. Put cornstarch in a bowl and roll each shrimp in the cornstarch, brushing off clumps, so that each shrimp is coated lightly and evenly.
Heat peanut oil in skillet on medium high. Once the oil is hot, add shrimp and sauté on each side until red and golden, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and place on paper towel.
Using separate skillet, or same skillet scraped out, heat a bit of oil on medium. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and stir until fragrant and slightly soft. Add jalapeno, scallion, and shrimp, and stir for 30 seconds while sprinkling most of salt and pepper on each side of shrimp. Serve and sprinkle remaining salt and pepper on top.