Got prawns? Got 15 minutes? Dinner is sorted with these plump and juicy prawns in a classic ginger sesame Chinese stir fry sauce, with snow peas and broccolini. It’s a Chinese restaurant standard!
Stir Fried Prawns
Fact: Even the most seasoned of cooks can struggle with a Prawn Stir Fry. Timing everything so the prawns are perfectly cooked when the vegetables are tender-crisp, while the stir fry sauce has thickened to the right consistency is actually harder to nail than it sounds. More often than not, something will be not quite perfect. The natural tendency is the focus on not overcooking the prawns (a dry, chewy crime!), so often either the vegetables are a bit undercooked or the sauce is still a bit watery.
The solution? Simple: Cook the prawns first, remove from the pan, then add them back in at the end after you’ve done the vegetables. Perfect, juicy and plump prawns. Every. Single. Time!
Plenty of sauce!
Just to reassure Sauce Fiends out there, I’ve got your back: this Prawn Stir Fry comes with plenty of sauce! We fiends know sauce is essential for soaking into rice.
Ingredients in Prawn Stir Fry
Here’s what you need to make this Prawn Stir Fry:
Stir fry add-ins
Prawns (aka shrimp) – Use 500g (1lb) fresh whole prawns that you peel yourself, or 250g (8oz) fresh and peeled or frozen and thawed prawns. If using frozen and thawed prawns, be sure to drain them well and pat off excess water.
Tails on or off? I leave the tail on for visual reasons only. For ease of eating, remove them!
Garlic and ginger – The essential aromatics. You get especially great ginger flavour in this stir fry because we cut the ginger into fine strips;
Onion – Another key aromatic and vegetable component; and
Snow peas and broccolini – My vegetables of choice, partly for their lovely green colour. Snow peas in particular are commonly paired with prawns at Cantonese Chinese restaurants. But really, you can use any vegetables you want.
Prawn Stir Fry Sauce
Light soy sauce – I use light soy sauce here which is not as dark as all-purpose or dark soy sauce, so the stir fry sauce remains quite clear. All-purpose soy sauce will work just fine too, although the sauce colour will be a bit darker. Don’t use dark soy sauce, the colour and flavour will be too intense. More on different types of soy sauces here;
Oyster sauce – An essential sauce from the Chinese pantry that’s slightly sweet and loaded with complex, savoury flavour. As the name suggests, it’s made from oyster juices which is the reason why it’s got such terrific flavours.
If you can’t eat seafood and want to make this stir fry with something other than prawns, substitute the oyster sauce with vegetarian oyster sauce. It is fairly widely available these days at large grocery stores in Australia and in Asian stores;
Sesame oil – For lovely, nutty sesame flavour. Use toasted oil which is brown in colour and has more sesame flavour. Untoasted sesame oil doesn’t have as strong a sesame flavour (and actually, it’s harder to find here in Australia);
Cornflour / cornstarch – For thickening the sauce; and
White pepper – White pepper is sometimes used in Chinese cooking rather than black pepper so you don’t see specks in the otherwise clear sauce.
How to make Prawn Stir Fry
The key to making a really good prawn stir fry (other than having an excellent stir fry sauce! 😇) is to cook the prawns first separately. This is the best and easiest way to ensure the prawns don’t overcook. Even I find it difficult to time a stir fry perfectly so that the prawns are perfectly cooked at the same time the vegetables are done and the sauce is thickened to the ideal consistency!
Make up the stir fry sauce: Mix the Sauce ingredients together first – everything but the water. This is because we’re making a fairly saucy stir fry here and we use a fair amount of water (3/4 cup). It’s harder to make cornflour / cornstarch dissolve lump-free in anything more than a few tablespoons of water.
Once the Sauce is mixed, set it aside, ready to pour into the wok / pan when required;
Steam broccolini: Steam the broccolini (or broccoli or cauliflower). Due to the shape and size of the broccolini, you need to pre-cook it before stir-frying;
Cook prawns / shrimp first: Cook the the prawns first, just for 1 1/2 minutes on the first side then 1 minute on the second side until they are just cooked through. Remove to a bowl. We cook the prawns on medium to medium-high heat so they don’t become too golden. Ever notice how prawns at Chinese restaurants are seared until golden? That’s what we’re going for!
How to tell prawns are perfectly cooked: They will curl into a “C” shape, as pictured in step 3 above. Raw prawns hang straight, overcooked prawns curl up tightly into an “O” shape;
Onions, ginger and garlic: Give the onions a head start first because they will take the longest. When they’re partway through cooked (just a minute or so) add the garlic and ginger and cook until they are starting to turn golden and smell amazing.
Snow peas next – Toss the snow peas in next and stir until they are shiny with the garlicky ginger oil;
Broccolini goes in: Finally add the broccolini and given them a quick toss as well.
Add Stir Fry Sauce: Pour the stir fry sauce in and start stirring straight away. Stir for 45 seconds to 1 minute until the sauce thickens to a syrup consistency. If your sauce gets too thick too quickly (eg. due to surface area because you’re using a really large skillet OR if your stove is strong) then just add a splash of water to thin it out; and
Add prawns back in: Lastly, add the prawns back in, including any juices pooled in the bowl. Toss them for around 30 seconds, just to warm them through. Now it’s ready to serve!
The end result we’re looking for: Everything nicely coated in the shiny clear pale brown sauce. The broccolini and snow peas are bright green and “tender-crisp”, meaning they are just cooked but still have a nice bit of a bite to them instead of floppy and a sad, dull green colour (not to mention all the nutrients lost in the overcooking!). And most importantly, those prawns are plump, pink, juicy and succulent!!
What to serve with Prawn Stir Fry
As with all stir fries, the natural option is to serve with rice. Rice is an excellent vehicle for soaking with stir fry sauces! Choose from one of these:
If you’re up for making a full-on Chinese banquet, try starting off your feast with some homemade Spring Rolls or Potstickers (pan fried-steamed-dumplings), or a Chinese Chicken Corn Soup. And perhaps add another main dish such as one of these:
Happy stir-frying! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Prawn Stir Fry (Shrimp)
Prawn Stir Fry Sauce:
- 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce (sub all purpose soy, Note 1)
- 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (sub Mirin or dry sherry, Note 2)
- 2 tsp oyster sauce (Note 3)
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil , toasted (Note 4)
- 1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp white pepper (sub black pepper)
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 tbsp oil , peanut, canola or vegetable
- 250g / 8 oz medium prawns , raw, peeled and deveined (equiv. 500g/1lb whole prawns, Note 5)
- 1/2 onion , sliced, brown or white
- 2 tsp ginger , finely julienned (~2cm / 0.7" piece)
- 2 tsp garlic , finely chopped (~ 2 cloves)
- 1 1/2 bunches broccolini , trimmed, cut into 5cm / 2" lengths, (~1 1/2 cups. Sub normal broccoli)
- 120g / 4 oz snow peas , thin string removed from both sides
- Steam broccolini: Steam broccolini until crisp-tender, about 2 – 3 minutes (remember it will cook more in the stir fry). Set aside to drain and dry.
- Stir Fry Sauce: Put all Stir Fry Sauce ingredients except water into a bowl. Mix until cornflour is dissolved. Then stir in water.
- Cook then remove prawns: Heat oil in a wok or large skillet on medium to medium-high heat. Add prawns and spread them in a single layer. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes, then turn and cook the other side for 1 minute until cooked through. Try not to make the prawns too golden (they are only lightly browned in stir fries). Remove prawns to a bowl. Set aside.
- Cook onion, garlic and ginger: Add more oil if the pan seems a bit dry. Still on medium-high heat, add onion and cook for 1 minute. Then add ginger and garlic and cook for another 1 minute until onion is starting to soften but not colour.
- Add snow peas, then broccolini: Add snow peas and toss until coated with oil. Then add broccolini and toss through.
- Add Sauce and thicken: Give the Sauce a stir (to dissolve cornflour settled at bottom), then pour into skillet. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens to syrup consistency (about 1 minute) and coats the ingredients nicely.
- Add prawns back in: Then add the prawns back in (including any juices in the bowl). Toss for another 30 seconds until prawns are warmed through.
- Serve: Serve with rice!
Life of Dozer
Early starts every day these days, to get to the construction zone that was once my house to catch up with the builders!! He prefers to come rather than be left behind.