This is a recipe for Honey Prawns, old-school Chinese restaurant-style. The batter coating is a proven secret weapon I use for Honey Chicken that stays crispy for hours, even after tossing with the honey sauce!
The trick? Ice cold soda water for one. Also, cornflour plus flour. Finally a double-fry, fast becoming the worst-kept cooking secret to less greasy fried foods that stay crispy for hours!
Honey Prawns that stay crispy for hours!
Honey Prawns are a much-loved favourite at suburban Chinese restaurants and takeaway joints across Australia. Plump, snappy prawns are battered and fried until crisp, then tossed in a sweet and sticky honey sauce – those words alone will have anybody drooling!
As irresistible as they are, for me Honey Prawns at most restaurants suffer one glaring defect: they don’t stay crispy for long! Once the honey sauce hits that crispy exterior, it’s an express ride to Soggy Town!
The simplest answer to this problem is of course to gobble fresh Honey Prawns down as soon as they hit the table. I heartily endorse this solution. 😂 But that aside … can we do better?
Yes we can! 🙂 Thanks to a trio of little tricks I employ, these Honey Prawns will stay crisp for not just a few minutes … or even hours …. or overnight … but you can even reheat them the next day to near freshly-cooked, crispy perfection!
Sound too good to be true? Read on and become a believer in the miracle of Stay-Crispy Honey Prawns!
What you need to make Honey Prawns
Here’s what you need to make these Honey Prawns that stay crispy for hours!
1. Prawns and honey sauce
Fresh raw prawns are best if you can, medium to medium-large size. The ones pictured are 33g whole or 17g peeled, to be exact!
However these days, frozen prawns are actually also pretty good. Get large frozen peeled prawns, thaw them and pat them dry very well. Frozen prawns tend to be quite watery when they defrost which will compromise the crispiness!
Honey – The primary flavour here. Yes, this sauce is sweet!
Glucose syrup – This is a very thick, clear syrup that comes in jars, usually found in the baking aisle of supermarkets. This is a little trick for making a thick honey sauce that coats the surface of the crispy coating without soaking in much and making it soggy. Substitute with clear corn syrup – this works just as well.
Chinese cooking wine – A commonly used ingredient in Chinese cooking to add depth of flavour into sauces as well as a little salt. Without it, the honey sauce tastes a bit flat, like it’s missing “something”. Substitute with mirin or if you can’t consume alcohol, low-sodium chicken stock/broth.
Soy sauce – For some flavour and seasoning.
No water added! – Most Honey Prawn sauce recipes include water and cornflour/cornstarch for thickening. Crispy batters and water are not friends! Give the water a miss.
2. Miracle stay-crispy fry batter
And here’s what you need for the miracle stay-crispy fry batter. I’m just going to cover the basics about each ingredient in this section. If you are interested in more about the why, have a read of the Honey Chicken post when I first introduced this fry batter!
COLD soda water, club soda or seltzer water – NOT sparkling mineral water which is naturally carbonated. We want something that has man-made bubbles in it because it is fizzier, and the fizz helps with the puffing of the batter. Meanwhile cold liquid is key for an ultra-crispy result. The shock of the cold batter hitting the hot oil = super-crispy batter, virtually immediately.
Cornflour/cornstarch – Wheat flour (ie. plain flour / all-purpose flour) contains gluten which causes crispy batters to soften. Cornflour is gluten-free, so using this type of flour in the batter is key for crispiness. We use mostly cornflour in this batter.
Plain flour / all-purpose flour – So why not just use all cornflour? If you do the batter becomes like a thick glue that’s not workable. Also because cornflour does not brown properly when fried, and stays pale. We want a nice golden colour for Honey Prawns! Thus some wheat flour helps here. We also need some to activate the baking powder to make this crispy coating puffy (baking powder doesn’t work on cornflour).
Baking powder – A key ingredient to give the batter some lift so it’s puffy, rather than a thin coating that’s fully adhered to the prawn like in Sweet & Sour Pork.
How to make Honey Prawns
This recipe utilises a double-coating method for an extra crispy coating. We dusting first with cornflour to seal the prawns, then a batter for crispiness!
1. Preparing the batter
Season prawns by tossing with salt. I used to marinate them in a little soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine for flavour, but have since found that this compromises the crispiness. Salt is all we need – there’s plenty of flavour in the crispy coating and the honey sauce that coats it thickly!
Cornflour/cornstarch dusting – Provides an extra layer to seal in the juiciness of the prawns so it doesn’t soften the crispy coating. A proven method utilised in Honey Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork!
Batter (cold!) – Made simply by mixing the batter ingredients together. A key step for ensuring the cooked batter is ultra-crispy is COLD raw batter. The shock of the cold batter hitting hot oil = crispier prawns. The batter is kept cold by making it just prior to frying, and using fridge-chilled soda water / club soda. For extra insurance, you can also chill the bowl and dry ingredients before mixing in the water – a good tip for beginners or when making Honey Prawns on hot days.
Batter thickness – The above photo shows the thickness of the batter (also see video). It is quite thin which is intentional. Contrary to what I expected, a thinner batter stays crispier for longer!
Dip in batter – Dip the floured prawn in one at a time into the batter, just before cooking.
Let excess batter drip off by holding the prawns for a few seconds before transferring them to the hot oil.
2. Double-fry – the secret for ultra-crispy!
Fast becoming the worst-kept frying secret, a quick double-fry is THE ultimate secret to ultra-crispy and less greasy fried food (more examples: Honey Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, my mother’s Chicken Karaage). It also solves the inherent problems of batch-frying where the first batches cool before the last hot batch is done. Why? Because unlike the first fry of the double-fry, during the second fry you can crowd the pot, meaning the prawns get reheated in one or at most, two quick batches.
Fry #1 (3 minutes) – Fry the prawns for 3 minutes at 160°C/320°F until LIGHT golden. This steps is to cook the batter and prawns. At the end of the 3 minutes, the coating will be pale but crispy, however it will soften as it cools. This is normal and we’ll properly crisp it shortly!
COOL prawns before second fry – Another key tip to make crispiness-that-lasts! I do not know the science behind this, but I have found that second-frying cold prawns is both crispier AND stays crispy for longer than second-frying prawns that are still hot form the first fry.
Fry #2 (3 minutes) – Fry the prawns for 3 minutes at 200°C/390°F or until they are a deep golden brown. Colour is the key indicator here. If the prawns are not golden enough, then the crispy coating will soften faster as it cools. They will still be crispy long enough to coat in sauce, serve and eat. But towards the end of the meal you will find they will not be fully crispy all the way around.
On the other hand, golden brown prawns will stay crispy for HOURS. As in, long after they are cold, they are still super-crunchy. It’s insane!
This is the target golden colour you are aiming for:
And here’s a comparison of the prawns after Fry #1 and Fry #2:
Bonus: Doing the quick Fry #2 just before serving where you can crowd the pot (ie all the prawns are cooked in 2 batches) means the prawns are served piping hot, freshly cooked.
Drain on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Now it’s time to coat in that wickedly good Honey Sauce!
Honey Sauce – In reality, we will make the Honey Sauce before we do Fry #2. Just plonk ingredients in a pot and simmer to make a fairly thick syrup with minimal water content, so it won’t make our prawns soggy.
Pour the Honey Sauce over the prawns in a bowl.
Toss quickly to coat the prawns in the Honey Sauce. You want to be quick here, not because the prawns will go soggy (they won’t!) but because the honey sauce will thicken as it cools which makes it harder to coat the prawns properly.
Serve! For an authentic Chinese restaurant experience, pile the prawns on a bed of fried rice vermicelli noodles. To make the noodles, you literally just drop a wad of dried rice vermicelli noodles in the hot oil and it will expand into a mass of foam-like crispy noodles within seconds!
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onion, if desired. Take to the table and watch them disappear in seconds!
What to serve with Honey Prawns
I find that Honey Prawns are a bit too sweet to have as the only main dish. So typically, I serve with with another savoury and salty side dish, plus fried rice and vegetables or a salad. Here are some suggestions:
If you put together your own Chinese restaurant banquet, tell me what you make! I love getting menu inspiration from readers! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Honey Prawns – stays crispy for ages!
- 300g/ 10oz prawns/shrimp , peeled with tail on (600g/1.2lb whole unpeeled) (Note 1)
- 1/2 tsp kosher/cooking salt (halve for table salt)
- 1/2 cup cornflour/cornstarch
Ultra-crispy fry batter:
- 9 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch (Note 2)
- 6 tbsp flour , plain/all-purpose
- 1/2 tsp baking powder (NOT baking soda)
- 1/2 tsp salt , kosher/cooking (halve for table salt)
- 2/3 cup + 1 tbsp COLD soda water, club soda or seltzer water (NOT sparkling mineral water, Note 3)
Oil, for frying:
- 3 – 4 cups vegetable or canola oil (~4cm / 1.5" depth in a pot)
Honey Sauce (Note 8 on sweetness):
- 1/3 cup (100g) honey
- 1.5 tbsp (25g) glucose OR corn syrup (light) (Note 4)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce (or all-purpose)
- 2 tsp Chinese cooking wine (or mirin)
Garnish / serving:
- 25g / 2 oz Vermicelli rice noodles (optional) , a wad of it (not mung bean noodles, it must be rice noodles)
- Sesame seeds, finely sliced green onions
Season and dust prawns:
- Salt prawns: Mix prawns with salt. (Don't do this ahead, salt makes prawns sweat = compromise crispy coating!)
- Dust: Place 1/2 cup cornflour/cornstarch in a bowl. Dip prawn in, shake off excess then put on a plate. Repeat with all prawns.
Cold batter and fry #1:
- Chill dry ingredients: Whisk together flour, cornflour/cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Place in fridge while oil heats up. (Helps keep batter cold, cold batter = crispier prawns)
- Heat oil: Fill small pot or large saucepan with 4cm / 1.7" oil. Heat to 160°C/320°F on medium high stove.
- Make cold batter: When the oil is near target temp, add soda water into the dry ingredients. Then do the minimum whisks to just combine (10 or so) – a few lumps ok, better than whisking too much (changes coating texture).
- Batter thickness: Should fully coat prawns easily, not be see-through, but not thick and heavy. See video at 38 seconds for cues. Use extra soda water 1 teaspoon at a time to achieve right thickness.
- Dredge: Holding a prawn by the tail, dip into the batter then hold up for a 2 seconds to let the excess batter drip off. Then carefully place in oil. Repeat with another 5 prawns (6 per batch).
- 3 minutes Fry #1: Cook for 3 minutes until light golden and crispy. When you pick them up, you can tell it's very crispy.
- Drain and repeat: Place prawns on a tray with paper towels. Repeat with remaining prawns. I cook in 4 batches. Don't crowd the pot as it brings oil temperature down too much.
- Cool prawns for 20 minutes (Note 5). Meanwhile, make Sauce.
- Simmer: Place ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to simmer, turn down stove to medium low then leave to simmer for 3 minutes.
- Syrupy consistency: The consistency should be like maple syrup (see video). Turn off stove, place lid on to keep warm (when cool, it gets too thick to toss prawns in it).
Fry #2 – for ultra-crispy!
- Heat oil to 200°C/390°F.
- 3 minutes Fry #2: Place half the prawns in oil (you can crowd the pot for Fry #2). Cook for 3 minutes or until it changes from pale golden to very golden, then remove to a paper towel-lined plate. You can tell by touching that it's built-to-last crispy! More golden = crispier (but don't overcook the prawns!) Repeat with remaining prawns.
Sauce and serve:
- Quickly toss: Transfer prawns to a metal bowl then pour over Honey Sauce. Quickly toss with rubber spatula to coat prawns in sauce. (Sauce starts thickening if you take too long, so be quick!)
- Garnish: Pile prawns over crispy rice noodles (if using), scatter with sesame seeds, green onion and serve!
Puffy crispy rice noodles (optional):
- At any point while oil is hot, drop a wad of noodles into hot oil, wait 3 seconds until it puffs up, then remove with tongs.
- Drain on paper towels, place on plate. Top with prawns! (Note: Crispy noodles stays crispy "forever" so you can do this well ahead. Not for eating – is flavourless.)
- Double fry the prawns. Fully cool. Reheat in 180°C/350°F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. just to heat prawns through and make the coating crispy again.
- Reheat Honey Sauce so it’s runny. Toss with prawns, serve!
Lucky 8: Eight more Chinese takeaway favourites
Life of Dozer
Honey Prawn vs beautifully plated piece of raw eggplant. Which did he choose?
Anybody who couldn’t guess should get their head checked. 😂