This is one of the first stir-fries I learned to make.
I cooked this for the first time while I was studying abroad for my junior (3rd) year of uni in Cambridge. I had a shaky first term there – culture shock, loneliness, homesickness. It was very different to studying at my home university, Brown, where I had many close friends and where there was a lot more contact time with professors and peers. It didn’t help that I found England cold and lacking in good food – while the college I was in did very nice formal meals at grand hall, I quickly tired of the standard buttery fare.
So it was with great desperation that turned me to cooking. I called up my mom one day out of desperation and asked for her recipes.
“What recipes do you want?” (mom, translated)
“Er, anything, whatever we eat at home usually.”
“Something easy for me to not mess up?”
“Hmm… how about the prawns with ketchup? There’s nothing to it: just make sure you use lots of garlic – cook them until they’re golden. Oh and mix ketchup and oyster sauce together for the sauce. That’s it!”
And that really is it. Sweet, salty, tangy – the ketchup and oyster sauce marries very well. Throw in some onions and spring onions for some texture, yum. Apologies to my friends who don’t like prawns – but to those who do, I heartily recommend this easy stir-fry :).
Mom’s Sweet and Savoury Prawns
150 grams raw prawns
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 stalks of spring onion, sliced diagonally into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1.5 tablespoons oyster sauce
1.5 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
black pepper to taste
1. Heat wok on medium heat. When pan is hot, add oil.
2. Fry garlic and yellow onion until fragrant.
3. Tip prawns into wok and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add oyster sauce and ketchup.
4. Crack black pepper over prawn. Stir fry for another 1 1/2 minutes. Don’t overcook the prawns! You’ll know when they’re done when they turn from a translucent grey to a stripey orange and white colour.
5. Add spring onion. Might want to add a few drops of hot water at this point if the sauce is drying up.
6. When spring onion is heated through, switch off heat and serve immediately with steamed white rice.
Cooking and eating this dish still brings me back to my old room in college. I remember sitting huddled at my desk in a blanket, freezing (I stayed in the oldest part of college , which was founded in 1347), homesick and lonely, but feeling such warmth from a plate of humble stir-fry. It made me feel safe. It made me feel that I could at least change one thing about my everyday life, and that was the food.
Thankfully, things quickly got better once I found friends. Or in fact, they found me – that’s a whole other story, involving pie and food poisoning (!). But all turned out quite well for me in the end at Cambridge. I’m glad I stayed on for the whole year because if I hadn’t, I would’ve never got into interested in cooking, never would have met such wonderful friends, and never would have met my boyfriend – and that really is another story :).