Thursday 15 March 2012

Singapore Nyonya Garam Asam ( Prawns In A Tangy Sour Sauce )

Nyonya Garam Asam ( Prawns In A Tangy Sour Sauce )
Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine, in my eyes, are one of the most highly underrated cuisine in the world. Most people have never even heard of it, let alone tried it. Which is such a shame given the current popularity with Thai, Indian and other similar Asian cuisine that are also packed full of spices and heat.

Peranakan are the direct descendant of the straits Chinese immigrant who has married the local Malay and therefore are of the mixed Chinese/Malay origins. Due to this, the style of cooking has also fusioned into a unique amalgamation. Spices plays a very important part as rempah or pounded spice paste form the corner stone of all Nyonya dishes. Baba are the the title given to the male peranakan and Nyonya are the female. Traditionally, only the nyonya stay at home to cook and therefore peranakan cuisine are also sometime addressed as Nyonya cuisine.

I remember when I was young, my nan would spent hours sitting on a little stool in the kitchen, gradually adding spices to the stone mortar and pestle and pounding them bit by bit into a smooth paste. She strongly believed that only by pounding the spices will you then get the all the natural essential oil and fragrant from the different spices to come together, creating this wonderfully aromatic rempah.

This is one of the dishes that she would used to make, either with prawns or with fish. Both seafood paired beautifully with this tangy and piquant sauce. To this day, I still firmly believe in what my nan said about pounding at the spices to bring out all their natural yumminess, however as a modern working adult, I sometimes just simply haven't go the time to do so. Therefore this is nowadays done in a food processor which makes life so much easier. By doing away with the hours spent on slaving over the mortar and pestle, this is now an easy and quick supper dish.

(Serves 4)

400g prawns, shells on or off are both fine
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
2 tbsp tamarind paste/purée
1 tbsp sugar
350ml water
sea salt to taste
1 spring onion, green part only, thinly sliced, for garnish ( Soak in ice cold water so that they'll curl up)

For the rempah/spice paste:
1/2 tbsp belachan/shrimp paste, toasted either on a dry pan or a hot oven for 3-4 minutes
2.5cm piece of galangal, peeled and chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped
4 large dried red chilies, soaked in warm water and drained
4 candlenuts or macademia nuts
1 tsp ground turmeric

Tamarind paste, shrimp paste, galangal and lemongrass


Prepare the rempah/spice paste. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz into a paste.
Heat the oil a wok or a large frying pan until smoking. Add the rempah/spice paste and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the tamarind paste and cook for another 2 minutes before adding the sugar.
Add the prawns, stirring to coat in the paste before pouring in the water. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 4-5minutes. Season with salt to taste.
 Transfer to a warm plate, garnish with the spring onions and serve immediately with a bowl of steam rice.
Nyonya Garam Asam ( Prawns In A Tangy Sour Sauce )

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