Love Birds Prawns
Love Birds Prawns
By: Deh-Ta Hsiung
THE main distinctive feature of Chinese cooking is the emphasis on the harmonious blending of colour, aroma, flavour, and texture, both in a single dish and in a course of dishes. The principle of blending complementary or contrasting colours, flavours and textures is based on the ancient philosophy known as yin-yang, which practically governs all aspects of the Chinese way of life, and has been the guiding principle for all Chinese cooks.
Perhaps one of the best examples of the yin-yang principle in Chinese cooking is in the way we blend different seasonings in complementary pairs: spring onions (yin) with ginger (yang); garlic (yin) with chilli (yang); salt (yin) with sugar (yang); soy sauce (yin) with wine (yang) and so on.
You will have noticed that the majority of dishes served in a Chinese restaurant are made up of more than one ingredient, this is because when a single item is served on its own, it lacks contrast and therefore there is no harmony. For centuries, Chinese cooks from the housewife to the professional chef have understood the importance of the harmonious balance in blending different colours, flavours and textures.
I've chosen a recipe that illustrates this point perfectly -- the dish features plain pink prawns on one end of the platter, and spicy reddish prawns (Sichuan-style) on the other end with bright green mange-tout in the middle. I learnt this very colourful and delicious dish from my good friend Mr. Ke, the famous Peking chef who has sold his very popular restaurant in Swiss Cottage, and now lives and works back in China. We still see each other now and then, but I do miss his cooking very much indeed, since most of his dishes (this Love Birds Prawns for instance) are seldom seen in other restaurants' menus.
The name of this dish may require an explanation -- the Chinese name is Yuanyang Prawns or Mandarin Duck Prawns. Mandarin ducks are also known as love birds because they are always seen lovingly together, therefore they are often used as symbols of affection and happiness. In China, silk pillow and bed covers embroidered with mandarin ducks in red and green are traditionally given as wedding presents.
450g/1 lb uncooked tiger prawn tails, peeled
pinch of salt
½ egg white, beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour paste
about 600ml/1 pint vegetable oil
175g/6 oz mange-tout, topped and tailed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons chilli bean paste (Toban Jiang)
1 tablespoon tomato paste or sauce
a few drops sesame oil
- De-vein the prawns and mix with the pinch of salt, egg white and cornflour paste.
- Heat the oil in a pre-heated wok until smoking, pour off the excess oil, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the wok, stir-fry the mange-tout for about 1 minute, add the salt and sugar, continue stirring for 1 more minute. Remove and place in the centre of a serving platter.
- Clean the wok and add the heated oil, stir in the prawns and blanch them in hot oil for about 40-45 seconds. Remove and drain.
- Pour off the excess oil, leaving just enough oil to grease the wok, add the spring onions, ginger and prawns, stir-fry for about 20-30 seconds, then add the soy sauce and wine, stir for 1 more minute. Place about half of the prawns at one end of the platter.
- Add the chilli bean paste and tomato sauce to the remaining prawns, blend well and sprinkle on the sesame oil. Place on the other end of the platter. Serve hot.
© recipe copyright 2000 Deh-Ta Hsiung
Author: Deh-Ta Hsiung Email: