Sometimes, and I found that to be quite often now, great things are the simplest things. We have been staying home for months on end, but somehow, thanks to the Internet, I found a connection to the whole world. As a food lover who was never confident in one’s own cooking, I found solace in a lot of cooking channels where I learned a lot. And I want to express my sincere thanks to all of them here.
While there’s no confirmed literature of what really is the headbutter of the river prawns, we still head-on munching and treasuring them anyway.
We used to frequent a Thai restaurant called Krua Kratae ครัวกระแต in the Ramindra area. Our best-loved dishes include this simplest preparation of river prawns. They called it ‘Goong Tod Kleur กุ้งทอดเกลือ‘ which means fried prawns with salt. There’s no garlic or any of the usual aromatics involved, but somehow this is the dish that best showcases the very natural yummy flavours of the prawns. And it is what I craved the most during our lockdown, hence this imitation of that dish with love and respect. 😀
River prawns are an expensive thing in Thailand. And the prices between the raw ingredients and the finished products are also stark. Palm-size fresh river prawns in a homey market can be at about THB500 per kilogram while the finished ‘grilled river prawns’ of the same maturity can fetch as much as THB2,000 per kilogram in certain restaurants, especially ones that line the rivers in Pathum Thani or Ayutthaya. A kilogram of that price yields about 8-10 prawns. At Or Tor Kor market where we frequent, I usually look around first and dive into the stall that I think carries the best quality and prices of the day. I would pick the prawns that are tight, their heads taut, their shell glossy and a bit slippery. I do my best when I shop, but sometimes I still get loose prawns with their flesh mushy. Those are not good and I would heartbreakingly discard them.
Prepping the river prawns requires sharp scissors. I’d cut all the sharp points off before start peeling them. The best way to do this is to begin at their belly. Pull apart the shell at that area first and everything should come off easily enough. For the river prawns, the coveted parts are not the body flesh but their heads that carry what is known as ‘butterhead’ – the yellowy, orangy, cream that most of the river prawn aficionados love more than anything. I make sure to keep the heads intact even without the shell. Sometimes I also need to freeze these prawns. I’d just wrap the unpeeled prawns in a big plastic bag that contains some ice, bury the crustaceans into the ice part and then place that bag in the freezer.
The RECIPE – Salt-fried river prawns สูตรกุ้งทอดเกลือ
- River prawns, peeled, with their heads intact. I found that smaller prawns work better here because their flesh would not toughen up as much as the larger ones. I use the prawns the size of 10 prawns per kilo.
- Salt, pepper, soy sauce to taste
- Frying oil
Preparation: (or Scroll up to see the video on my Instagram)
In a pan, put in some oil, wait until the oil warms up then add the prawns. Cover the pan with a lid. Steaming helps cooking and soften the prawns.
When the prawns are about half-cooked, add salt, pepper and a bit of soy sauce. Gently stir everything to mix. I use a thong to gently flip the prawns. Cover the lid until all the prawns are nice and done, but not too stringy.
Ladle everything on a plate. Make sure you get every bit of the oil that should be well-mixed with the oozing butterhead off the pan. Serve this with steamed rice as is, or add some extra zing with Nam Pla Prik or soy sauce (in my case) or fish sauce with chopped fresh chillies and lime on the side.
A HEALTH NOTE:
The butterhead, long-accepted to be a high-calorie decadent, made a lengthy yet inconclusive debate in town lately. See, some scientists pointed out at the crustacean’s anatomy, identifying that the butterhead is in fact its liver, hence containing toxic residues like a human’s liver would. Of course, that stirred up an outcry among butterhead lovers, who, despite being skeptical, would rather continue blissfully eating the stuff anyway. Personally, I think the butterhead can really be the liver, but due to its sublime taste, I would eat it, but I will try my best to be moderate about it. Life is all about self-control anyway! If you have opinions about this issue, please let me know.