Luke Nguyen's Seared Jumbo Prawns (Tôm Càng Kho Tàu)

9 January 2020 Luke Nguyen

Luke Nguyen's Seared Jumbo Prawns (Tôm Càng Kho Tàu)

Photo by Terry Gordon


Serves 4

4 x 600g jumbo river prawns
Pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons annatto oil
Pinch pepper
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
200g water spinach, blanched
2 red Asian shallots, diced
1 tablespoon oyster sauce (mixed with 1 tablespoon water)
2 spring onions, sliced on diagonal
Small handful coriander
1 long red chilli, finely sliced
Mixed edible flowers


Cut the prawns in half, removing the vein. Pick out the prawn tomalley and place it into a small mixing bowl. The shell should be intact. Season the flesh of the prawn with a pinch of salt.
Add 1 tablespoon of annatto oil, pinch of pepper and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce to the bowl and mix well. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, add 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon annatto oil, 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Stir and set aside.
In a hot saucepan, add half the oil, half the garlic, then the water spinach. Stir-fry the spinach for 1 minute. Add the oyster sauce mixture and stir-fry for another 1 minute. Set aside.

In a hot saucepan, add the remaining oil, remaining garlic and red shallots. Sauté for 1 minute or until fragrant. Sear the prawns for 1 minute on each side then remove and keep warm.

In the same pan, add the seasoned annatto water, stir then turn the heat to high.

Add the prawn tomalley and stir again, and simmer for 4 minutes until slightly thickened.
Now return the prawns to the pan and cook for a further 3 minutes or until cooked.

Taste the sauce and season accordingly. Divide the water spinach between 4 plates, place 2 prawn halves on top of the water spinach.

Scoop a generous amount of sauce over the prawns and garnish with spring onion, coriander, chilli and edible flowers.

Luke says…

This recipe combines the two places I call home – Australia and Vietnam. Prawns are an Australian staple, and this recipe puts a classic Vietnamese twist on them. It’s an ideal dish to cook during the long hot Aussie summer, as prawns are plentiful and they cook in minutes. Chopping the garlic and onion and gutting the prawns are all you really need to do, the rest comes together in the pan.

It’s a nostalgic dish for me as I used to eat it all the time growing up in Cabramatta. I remember my mother preparing the prawns, and showing me how to remove the head, where all the flavour lies. This dish taught me the value in using every single part of the ingredient.

The flavours are uniquely Vietnamese, with the combination of the fresh prawns, peppery annatto oil and umami-rich fish sauce. The fresh seafood we get in Australia is some of the best in the world, and I love elevating their amazing flavour with the sweet, sour, acid and fat of Vietnamese ingredients.

There is nothing else in the world like preparing and sharing a meal with other people. The act of cooking is inherently an act of love – taking raw ingredients and making them into something delicious and nourishing for someone else. Shared meals are one of the rare times people are away from technology these days, and I find this helps conversation and connection so much.

A great deal of my recipes are traditional Vietnamese dishes that have been passed down through my family, and that have formed a huge part of my identity. Making sure family recipes are handed down between generations is important in Vietnamese culture and very important to me and my family. I hope one day my boys will still be cooking the recipes of their grandparents, and in turn pass it on to their kids. It’s a wonderful way of preserving family history and tradition through food.

Food is everything to me! It is a huge outlet of creativity, and a constant source of inspiration. It is also family, community and connection.

This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#602