Fried Assam Prawns: the uglier it is, the better the taste

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One of my favourite ways of eating prawns is the fried assam way.

The prawns are marinated in sugar, salt, dark sauce and assam paste (tamarind sauce). And then pan seared in a shallow layer of oil. The prawn is enjoyed with shells on. This way of cooking utilises the flavours in the shell to enhance the dish.

The key to good Fried Assam Prawns lies in the way you cook it. It is easier to just deep-fry. But the marinade will dissipate and while your prawns will look better, taste-wise, it is not. When you pan-sear or do shallow pan-frying, the prawn shells will have direct contact with the hot pan surface and will be effectively caramelised. The thick marinade stays on the prawn, adding layers of flavours.

Marinating the prawns
Now, this approach is labor-intensive as you can only pan sear a few prawns at one go, limited by the size of the pan. For a large party, it can easily take more than two hours to get all the prawns done. This is one reason why commercially, Assam Prawns are seldom cooked this way. I was in Melaka recently and the Nonya outlets there take short-cuts when it comes to this.

If done properly, it will look ugly with black spots. It will be lacking in visual appeal but for those who are familiar with it, there will be a look of delight on their faces.

To enjoy this prawns, you should eat everything. There is lots of flavours in the umami-ladened shells. This is one reason why crystal prawns with their thinner shells are more suited than tiger prawns. And smaller ones are generally better if cooked this way but compromises have to be made for those who are not keen on crunching shells.

Pan-searing the prawns
Should you peel away the shells? Of course not. But if the prawn is medium to large size, you could tear away a section of the middle shell to make it easier for the diner to get to the meat.

To variate, you can try using Thai Tamarind. It will be fruitier and less sour.

Serve it at room temperature. Sprinkle in some lime juice. It is perfect with rice, especially Nasi Lemak as it adds a unique tamarind-umami flavour to the plate, making every spoonful incredibly appetising.

We are cooking this for the coming Alpha Nasi Lemak party.

It will need a few patient hours in the kitchen pan-searing this.

It will be a labor of love for our guests. We hope to serve a very good plate of home-style Nasi Lemak.

I have blogged the Fried Assam Prawn recipe here.

You Might Also Like


  1. Mum would make this when I was growing up and it is my favourite prawn dish. Now my son would ask Grandma to make every time we visit her. It is so delicious!