Vietnamese Seafood and Cucumber Stir Fry
Trying to coax a recipe out of somebody can be hard work. Even after showing repeated allegiance and continued praise for the very same dish, people still like to keep their cards close to their chest. In the case of this recipe, a simple yet full-on bowl of briny heat and pungent umami, it took a multitude of visits to a Vietnamese restaurant in East London and the slow but steady befriending of a particular waiter. Who shall remain anonymous, because I can never remember his name.
Basically, things went like this. I would regularly go to this restaurant for lunch and more often than not, I would order the seafood and green vegetable stir fry. After lapping it up and slurping down on fiery prawns and cooling cucumber, I would always say ‘C’mon, how does the chef make this?’ And my friend would always grimace and curtly say ‘I am not telling you.’ And on it went, for a very long time and over many months.
‘Come on, tell me.’
‘Please, it’s lovely, I just want to know.’
‘Ah gowangowangowangowangowangowan…tell me!’
Now, I don’t know if I had broken the man’s resolve or whether he was a fan of Father Ted but finally he cracked and after scanning the horizon, he whispered over the table a list of ingredients and some instruction. The important thing was not to go too heavy on the shrimp paste and that I had to deseed the cucumber, the broth would become too watery otherwise.
After taking it all down and securing this new found knowledge in the recipe binder of my mind, I distinctly remember walking out of the restaurant feeling quite triumphant. And having cooked this very quick and easy stir-fry at home several times, it pleases me to no end that I can rustle up this favourite whenever the mood takes me. All it takes is just a little bit of preparation.
However, I do having the nagging suspicion that he didn’t give me the complete low down and that perhaps a key ingredient is still missing. I say this because I returned to the restaurant recently (for purposes of making sure that I get this spot on for this post) and after ordering and eating the usual, it was just oh so better than my efforts.
So I caught my friend by his elbow just one more time and said:
‘Do you remember when you gave me the recipe for this? Are you sure you told me everything?’
To which he just nodded, smiling and winking for the first time ever, and said ‘Yes.’
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs in association with The Cucumber Growers Association.
Yes, there is one.
300gms Tiger prawns
300gms baby squid
2 large spring onions
2 red chillies
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbs shrimp paste
2 tsp brown sugar (palm sugar is best but demera is fine)
1 tbs fish sauce
Oil, for frying
Mint and coriander, to serve
First prepare your seafood by deveining the prawns (if necessary) and cut up the squid either into rings or small pieces, making sure you lightly score the flesh. Leave the tentacles intact. Also slice the scallops in half.
Then prepare the vegetables by cutting the spring onions up, the white part into rings and the green part into broader, diagonal slices. Slice the cucumbers straight down the middle and using a teaspoon, remove the watery seeds. Then slice the cucumber into batons. Cut the garlic into slithers and deseed and finely chop one of the red chillies. Cut the other chilli again into broad slices and finally, chop your limes in half.
Next take a wok or large frying pan and place on the hob over a high heat. Add a healthy glug of oil and then add the shrimp paste. Fry off quickly for a minute or so and then add the finely chopped chilli, garlic and white spring onion rings. Continue to fry and stir the paste for another minute and then add the cucumber batons, fish sauce and squeeze in the juice of one of the limes. Then add the seafood and cook briskly for another two minutes, until everything is just cooked through.
Serve into bowls and garnish with sliced chilli, green onion tops and half a lime. You can chop and sprinkle the herbs across but it’s common practice to just leave some on the side of the plate for people to tear up and scatter and season.