This is a delicious and easy basic Thai dish from my favorite Thai cookbook: Thai Food and Cooking by Judy Basta and Becky Johnson (the least Thai-like names imaginable, though it’s a great book). Tamarind is magic enough where I really need to find a use for it in more recipes.
As with any recipe, go with the best quality ingredients you can find. And in this case, the bigger the shrimp, the better. It just makes for a better presentation and overall eating experience.
For the tamarind, I used what’s pictured. The pulp is really easy to work with. Tamarind paste is similar in taste, but it seems to be even more concentrated.
Either way, use the full amount to ensure its sour flavors come through. Speaking of full amount, my version of the dish cuts the dried red chili amount by about half what other recipes used. Six of them seemed a bit much, given how hot they are.
What you’ll need:
- 3-4 dried red chilies
- 2T high-temperature oil (corn, peanut, etc., not olive)
- 2T chopped onion
- 2T light brown sugar
- 2T chicken stock or water
- 1T fish sauce
- 6T tamarind juice (made from paste, just not quite so thick)
- 1lb prawns or big shrimp, peeled, but with tails on
- 1T fried garlic*
- 2T fried shallots*
*I didn’t have either of these in the house, so I made it without them. My guess is they would add more flavor to an already delicious meal.
What to do:
In a large pan or wok over medium heat, dry fry the dry red chilies, being carful not to burn them. Note that the fumes that rise may make you sneeze or your eyes water. They’re potent. When they’re done, set aside to cool.
Add oil to the wok and reheat over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them, stirring often until they just begin to soften and turn golden (3-5 minutes).
Add the sugar, stock (or water), fish sauce, the dry-fried chilies and tamarind juice. Cook and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat a bit, because next comes the shrimp/prawns.
Add the shrimp, fried garlic and fried shallots. Cook until shrimp is no longer translucent and becomes pink.
Serve hot with green onions as a garnish. Goes well with rice noodles or jasmine rice.