Crisp crunchy deep-fried panko encrusted prawns,
Luxuriating on a comforting blanket of creamy rich polenta;
Both tinged with a whisper of the exotic yet familiar; the nut that’s not a nut; tender but firm – its flesh as white as snow…
This dish is certainly A Few of My Favourite Things.
I’m a bit of a late-comer to the Polenta Party. Having eaten it several times over the years it’s never struck me as a worthy contender for my beloved pasta. Nice enough, I guess, but with the amount of butter, oil and cheese you have to throw at it to produce that all-important ‘mmm’ I’d not considered it worth the kilo-cals (or killer cals).
Added to that, the fact that aficionados tend to expound the virtues of ‘the proper stuff’ – i.e. cornmeal – which takes an age and a half to cook and several units of energy to ‘stir vigourously’, I’d unconsciously relegated it to the ‘maybe some other time’ pile.
That ‘other’ time was approximately half past seven one Tuesday evening at Cold Month o’ clock. Quick-cook polenta had been unearthed from the back of the larder – heaven knows how it got there, or when (!) – and I was intent on injecting some flavour into the stuff without having to resort to dairy over-load.
Ah-hah! A recent trip to our huge purveyor of all things Asian meant that my favourite ingredient, coconut milk, was literally staring me in the face, begging to be of use in my hour of need. And it was. Very useful! I infused the coconut milk with lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger and whatever else I had to hand, stirred in the polenta et voila: a perfectly delicious (not to mention economical) creamy (without cream) bowl of polenta. The real value of the dish is that it’s easy; adaptable; forgiving if you need to leave it standing for a while (just re-heat and add a little more liquid to get the desired consistency) and pretty quick! I was an instant convert.
Prawns are a familiar friend at meal times, for us. I don’t feel comfortable without a couple of bags of frozen raw king prawns under my roof…I feel kind of itchy…on edge…like something’s not right. Is that just me?
They are just so darn YUM! Quick to defrost at a moment’s notice (especially if, like me, you have one of those defrosting trays which are genius!) they are a tasty low fat protein that can be curried, pasta’d, risotto’d, saladed, whacked in a jacket potato, or – as in this case – deep fried. I personally believe that prawns were born to be deep fried as they’re the ideal size – being cooked to perfection just as their coating turns golden and crispy – as well as texture to compliment the external crunch. They’ve told me as much, so I know it’s true.
Cook’s notes: I wanted to amp up the coconut quota here because it is another of my favourite flavours (hey, it’s all about ME people). My original plan was to use desiccated coconut with panko breadcrumbs as the crispy coating but, shock of shockers, I’d run out! Fortunately I had a stash of it in another form: ‘freshly frozen’ which I was able to combine with both the polenta and breadcrumb coating. If you don’t have fresh coconut, however, I believe that desiccated coconut would be just as good (maybe even better…I’ll let you know), so please go ahead and try this.
I would also like to add that God did not make all coconut milk equal, so please read the ingredients and buy the cans with a high percentage of coconut flesh – 60-80%
For the ‘spicy’ contingent of the Crunch Prawns just use whichever spices (individual or ready-made blends) you like; the idea is to inject a bit of a kick, so all spices work nicely.
Creamy Coconut Polenta
- 400ml can of good quality coconut milk
- Quick cook polenta – 100g
- Lime leaves – approx. 6 fresh or frozen (dried are not so good)
- Lemon grass – 1 large stick, or 2 small; smashed up a bit to release its flavour
- Root ginger – 5cm chunk, sliced thickly
- Dried chilli – 1
- Coriander stalks – a few (optional)
- Fish sauce – 1-2 tsps
- Turmeric – 1 tsp
- Star anise – 1 or 2
- Water – enough to achieve desired consistency
- Lime juice – a squeeze
- Fresh frozen shredded coconut – 25g (if available – don’t use desiccated as a substitute)
Crunchy Spiced Prawns
- Large raw king prawns – 20
- Plain flour – approx. 50g
- Panko breadcrumbs – approx 50g or enough to coat the prawns
- Coconut – fresh frozen or desiccated, approx 25g
- Egg – beaten
- Cajun seasoning – 2 tsp
- Garlic powder – 2 tsp
- Paprika – 2 tsp
- Ground coriander – 2 tsp
- Ground cumin – 1 tsp
- Fennel seeds – 1 heaped tsp, ground
- Salt and pepper – to taste
- Flavourless oil for frying – 2 inches deep
- Spring onions and coriander leaves to stir through at the end (optional)
Add coconut milk to a large saucepan with all the aromatic ingredients (i.e. all but the polenta, water, lime juice and fish sauce).
Bring to the boil, then cover and leave to infuse for as long as possible, or at least 20 minutes.
Once infused, strain out the aromats then return to a high heat and stir in the polenta. Add water little by little until you achieve the consistency that you like. Add the fresh coconut, if using.
Cook on a low heat for approximately eight minutes, or whatever the pack instructions advise. Remove from the heat and leave to one side while you cook the prawns. Warm through just before serving and add the fish sauce, lime juice and season to taste.
Prepare the prawns by slicing down their backs to remove the black ‘vein’.
Rinse and dry thoroughly on kitchen towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the flour and spices on a large plate with a good grind of pepper and sea salt and mix well. This ‘seasoned flour’ is the first coating for the prawns and will provide the flavour base.
Add the panko breadcrumbs and coconut to a second large plate and mix well.
Beat the egg in a small bowl and place between the plates; this is the glue that sticks the breadcrumbs to the prawns.
Now simply coat the prawns in the seasoned flour, then dip them in the egg before burying them briefly in the breadcrumb mix in order to thoroughly coat them.
Do this in batches until they’ve all been coated. They are now ready for frying.
Heat approximately two inches of your desired flavourless oil in a deep pan or wok. Just before it starts smoking add a small piece of bread to the oil to test how hot it is: it should turn golden brown in about 30 seconds. (I never do this, but some people advise it.)
When you’re ready to fry the prawns, have a large bowl or plate ready with some kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil. Fry them in batches until golden and keep them warm in a very low oven.
Serve atop a big dollop of polenta and sprinkle with coriander leaves and spring onions.
(Sriracha sauce makes a nice addition…if only for a red colour injection…I won’t tell).
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