There aren’t enough superlatives to describe these delectable morsels of tender, crunchy, juicy perfection. You’ll want to make these Prawn Cakes for everyone you know.
One of my favorite cookbooks this year is Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl. It’s loaded with drool-worthy ideas and photos.
On page 106, you’ll find a recipe titled West Lake Prawn Cakes. It looks at first glance like a fairly straight forward riff on tempura, but on closer inspection, you’ll notice that “cakes” refers to a bottom pillow of batter, which adds a tender component that contrasts with the crispy-crunch of the unpillowed batter. In Hanoi, vendors create mountains of prawn cakes to lure hungry customers.
I took note of the mention of “white sweet potato” in the list of ingredients. Initially, I thought the authors meant the paler colored of the two common American sweetpotatoes, which as you know, are more of a creamy yellow than true white.
So while I shopped for other Asian ingredients at H Mart in Portland Metro, I looked for a few sweetpotatoes. All they were bins and bins of a red-skinned variety labeled Asian Sweet Potatoes. I scrape a little of the skin with my fingernail, and guess what? The interior is white. Bingo!
The first thing I noticed when I peeled my first stash of Asian sweetpotatoes is that the flesh is nearly white, not yellow or orange as with American sweetpotatoes (Hanna, Golden Sweet, O’Henry (pale, dry-fleshed) or Diane, Beauregard, and Covington (orange, moist-fleshed). They are also quite starchy and dry, with a delicate, slightly sweet, nutty flavor.
The second thing I noticed is that Asian sweetpotatoes begin turning brown upon peeling–so to prevent discoloration, they must be submerged immediately in cold water.
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe these surprisingly delectable morsels of tender, crunchy, juicy perfection. You’ll want to make them for everyone you know. They would be a huge hit at a cocktail party—if you don’t mind manning a deep-fryer for a round or two.
Inspired by West Lake Prawn Cakes in the inestimable Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl.
Serving Note For cocktail fare, make the morsels smaller, with only one prawn per cake.
Batter (makes about 1 cup batter)
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup white rice flour
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons ice water
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
24 medium, fresh prawns, cut ¼-inch deep along the outward curve and deveined (shells and/or heads may be left on for drama)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Asian Sweet Potatoes
1 large Asian sweet potato (white-fleshed Satsuma-imo variety), peeled and cut into 1½- by 1/8-inch julienne strips (3 cups; 8-9 ounces prepared)
4 cups vegetable oil (safflower, soybean, peanut, corn, and sunflower oils are preferred, as they all have smoke points at or above 450ºF.)
½ cup toasted sesame oil
- To prepare batter, in a medium mixing bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rice flour, turmeric, sea salt, sugar, and baking powder.
- In a 2-cup glass measuring cup with pouring spout, add water, egg white, vinegar, and garlic, and whisk to combine.
- Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly to combine. Let rest for 30 minutes.
- To prepare prawns, in a small mixing bowl, toss prawns with garlic, salt, and pepper.
- To prepare sweet potatoes, submerge them in ice water as they are julienned, draining and replenishing water periodically as it becomes cloudy with potato starch.
- To combine batter, prawns, and sweet potatoes, in a medium mixing bowl, add well drained sweet potatoes, prepared prawns, and batter. Mix gently to ensure batter coats all ingredients.
- To prepare to deep-fry, arrange mesh skimmer, metal tongs, 2 large serving spoons, loaded batter, and an edged baking sheet lined with paper towels next to the stove top.
- To deep-fry, place a heavy wok over high heat. Add vegetable and sesame oils. Heat to 350ºF (a drop of batter will rise to the surface on contact).
- With one of the spoons, scoop some of the batter, and then top with 1 prawn, a small handful of potatoes, and another prawn.
- Move the loaded spoon over the hot oil (nearly touching the oil), and use the second spoon to push the loaded batter into the oil. Quickly repeat with 2 more prawn cakes, so that there are three cakes frying in the wok at a time.
- Fry until lightly brown on the underside (2-3 minutes), turn, and fry until lightly brown on the other side (1-2 minutes).
- Use a skimmer to remove prawn cakes to paper towel-lined baking sheet.
- Repeat with remaining 9 cakes, in 3 batches.
- To serve, arrange prawn cakes on a platter with Sichuan Spiced Salt
Makes 12 cakes.
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Sweet Potato Varieties | Wayne E. Bailey
Copyright 2015 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.