Crystal Prawns with Asparagus Tips

(Photo by alexxis/Flickr)

Like many Chinese recipes, there are two steps and two methods of cooking combined which makes this an ideal dish for preparing ahead, requiring only final stir-frying just before serving.

Serves 4-6.


500 g/1 lb medium to large raw prawns
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
oil for deep frying
1 bunch fresh asparagus*

125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)


Shell and devein prawns. Slit them half way through along the outer curve. Put the prawns in a large bowl, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and stir the prawns briskly for 1 minute.

Transfer prawns to a colander and rinse under cold water for 1 minute, turning them over and over. Drain, return them to the bowl and sprinkle with another teaspoon of salt. Repeat the procedure, stirring vigorously for 1 minute, then rinse as before. Drain and repeat a third time. (This treatment removes the slippery feel and makes the flesh crisp.)

Dry the prawns on paper towels and marinate in a 'velveting' mixture of egg white, cornflour and oil which gives them a protective coating and keeps them moist. Sprinkle the prawns with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Beat egg white only enough to break it up, and pour it over the prawns. Sprinkle tablespoon of cornflour over and mix well. Add tablespoon of oil and mix again. Cover and chill for 30 minutes or longer.

Crush the garlic with sugar. Mix all sauce ingredients together. In a wok, heat 3-4 cups oil until moderately hot. Turn heat to medium, drop in the prawns and stir to keep them separate. They will turn white in less than a minute. Lift them immediately from the oil.

Pour oil into a metal bowl. (It can be strained and re-used, frying a few slices of ginger in it first.) Wipe the wok with paper towels and place it over high heat. When very hot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the surface. Add the garlic and ginger, stir for 10 seconds, then add the asparagus tips and stir-fry over high heat until they turn brilliant green (about 1 minute). Add 2 tablespoons water, cover wok and allow asparagus to steam for 2 minutes.

Stir the sauce mixture to ensure cornflour is smoothly mixed. Pour it into the wok and stir constantly until it boils and thickens. Return the prawns, mixing them through the sauce and serve immediately with rice.

* This dish needs only the most tender asparagus tips. No need to waste the lower portion. Use it for soup that can be pueed and strained to remove tough fibres.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)