Nothing is more disappointing than being psyched up to eat something epic only to discover it’s mediocre. During my last couple visits to Hawaii I always make it a priority to eat as the locals do. Instead of hitting the beaches to soak up of the sun, I put on a pair of good walking shoes and do a self-guided food crawl with a list of must-visit places to eat. While on Oahu, visiting the famous shrimp trucks in the North Shore is a given but what bothers me the most about these trucks are how their reputations built this out of body experience hope that must be tried in order to understand the hype. I won’t pick on any singular shrimp truck, but I will say this much. I wasn’t so impressed that any of these trucks blew me away like I hoped and expected. It boiled down to cooked shrimp swimming in a bath of melted butter and tossed in what tasted like jarred chopped garlic, which in and of itself has a distinguishable flavor. I’m not trying to be a purist but the difference in flavor between jarred garlic and fresh garlic is like night and day.
While shopping Costco yesterday they had a fresh seafood station selling seafood by the pound, which is something to get excited about because it is the only time I can buy whatever amount I want, not dictated by large quantity units. Although I wasn’t planning on buying anything I did ask the guy enclosed by the four seafood stations if I could buy just a half pound of jumbo black tiger prawns. When he told me it wouldn’t be a problem I ordered a half pound which came to $6.50. Not bad considering if I ordered a similar quantity and quality of prawns off a dinner menu somewhere, I would probably pay at least triple, more like quadruple.
As I gave it some thought on how I wanted to prepare these meaty prawns I kept thinking of the Northshore food trucks and how there had to be a better way. Giving it some thought I thought about how much I love eating salt and pepper prawns from my favorite Chinese food restaurant. Then I had this thought, how could I fuse the two in a complimentary way.
In order for shrimp or prawns to have any flavor, they should be brined. Having some red Hawaiian seal salt on hand I massage prawns with some salt despite they were shell on. The shells add so much flavor and also protect the meat inside from charring and in some cases overcooking too quickly. After about 10 minutes I add water to make a water brine solution. This is so the the meat can pull some of the salt and season the seafood which also helps with tenderizing.
After draining the prawns and patting them with a paper towel I sprinkle them with a little corn starch. My thought process behind this is to give it a little bit of texture so the butter and seasonings have something to adhere to, and I was right.
After frying the prawns briefly on both sides in coconut oil I like to remove the prawns immediately. I add butter and fresh chopped garlic in the pan. After half a minute I return the prawns back to the pan and continue to fry for a half a minute longer on both sides while seasoning gently with black pepper.
The goal then becomes to not burn the garlic but to finish off coking the shrimp and allow the garlic to cook to a brown nearly crispy state. By now there may many bits of garlic stuck to the pan. I like to add just a teaspoon of dry sherry to the pan to help any stuck pieces of garlic loosen from the pan as well as to give the butter garlic mixture a little bit more depth.
After sprinkling with the salt and pepper, I like to pour the remaining garlic and butter over our finished dish and top it off with cilantro. I kid you not, this was one of the most best prawn dishes I have ever had, no joke.
To eat the shrimp, you put the whole thing in your mouth and pretty much suck all the salty peppery cilantro and garlic butter flavor off the shell before removing the shell completely (and quickly) and eating the prawns. It’s so ridiculously good. The prawns are perfectly cooked and tender and is not over powdered by any one ingredient.
Next time I go to Hawaii, I think I’ll skip the garlic shrimp trucks and instead eat shaved ice only. At least until I find a way to make silky shaved ice. And I’m pretty sure the answer to that is never. Enjoy!
- ½ pound jumbo prawns (about 12 of them), simple peel, shell split & deveined
- 1 tablespoon red Hawaiian sea salt (Kosher salt works fine too)
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- fresh ground pepper
- 1½ tablespoons butter
- 6 large cloves fresh garlic, chopped
- Hawaiian sea salt and fresh black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry sherry or white wine
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- In a medium bowl, toss the prawns with the salt. Massage the prawns with the salt for 10 seconds, set aside for 10 minutes.
- Fill the bowl with just enough water to cover the prawns. Allow the shrimp to rest in the brine for 15 minutes.
- Strain the shrimp and pat dry with a paper town. Do not rinse.
- Sprinkle the starch over each side of the prawns.
- Heat a frying pan on medium heat with coconut oil.
- When the pan is hot, add the prawns. Cook each side for 1 minute and season with black pepper.
- The shells will appear dark orange and cooked but the meat will be slightly raw. Remove the shrimp to a plate immediately.
- Add the butter and garlic to the pan. As the butter melts, grab the handle of the pan and swirl the garlic around. The goal is not to burn the garlic.
- Once the butter is nearly melted completely, add back the prawns and cook for an additional 30 seconds on each side, seasoning with a touch of Hawaiian sea salt and more pepper.
- Garlic should be slightly browned and even crispy but not burnt.
- Remove the prawns to a serving bowl or plate.
- Some of the garlic may have stuck to the pan. Add the sherry and using a wood spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan so all the garlic is loose. Cooking time is less than 20 seconds. Pour the butter garlic mixture over the prawns.
- Finish the dish off with the chopped cilantro.
- Eat immediately.