KitchenTigress: February 2011

Cereal Butter Prawns (I)

Melt some butter and, when it's bubbling nicely, grab a few sprigs of curry leaves and rip off the leaves (with style, of course). Toss 'em in the wok, together with a roughly chopped up cili padi. Stir vigorously, knocking the spatula against the wok now and then. (Not sure what the knocking is for but that's what chefs do. Maybe it's a man thing?)

Butter, curry leaves and cili padi are all ingredients with pretty strong flavours but they complement rather than overwhelm each other. Each stands its ground, yet works with the other two to create a killer combination loved by young and old alike.

The party of three is excellent as it is but why stop there? When the aroma of the curry leaves starts drifting round the kitchen, tip a good half cup of cereal into the sizzling butter (with a flourish please). A few more vigorous stirs and – voila! – there's a pile of golden sand in the wok. I know many people would happily eat this crunchy sandy mixture with a shovel! It's so good it makes even cardboard taste good. (Not that I've tried, of course. I'll stick to prawns fried in the shell, thank you very much.)

I'd always thought cereal prawns were made with oatmeal, so my first stab at the recipe was with some Quaker instant oats that had been sitting in a kitchen cabinet, unloved and untouched. When the oats were mixed with melted butter, all I got was a disgusting, soggy lump that tasted downright nasty. Into the bin it went, no hesitation at all, and the prawns were eaten sans cereal.

Note to self: (1) "麦片" means cereal flakes; that's why "麦片虾" in English is cereal prawns; (2) oatmeal is commonly referred to as "麦片" (which isn't wrong since oat is a cereal) but, strictly speaking, it should be "燕麦片"; and (3) I need to improve my Chinese!

The second time round, after a bit of research, I bought a pack of Nestum All Family Cereal. This one, recommended by many cooks, worked like a charm. It was super fragrant and super crispy – a total success! There were smiling faces, finger licking, and nods of approval all round. YAY!
Did you know that Nestum cereal, made by Nestlé, is 67% wheat flour? The rest of the ingredients are rice flour, sugar, corn and various vitamins. So everyone who eats Nestum cereal, thinking it's good for his health because that's what the ads say, is actually eating enriched, baked flour. Except it's sold at almost four times the price of regular raw flour. Nestlé is really smart, eh? No wonder it's the biggest food company in the world.

13 August 2012 Update

How to make cereal butter prawns

Step-by-step guide

Prawns are deep-fried, then tossed with a cereal mix that's crispy, spicy and incredibly aromatic. The aroma comes from Nestum cereal, curry leaves, milk powder and butter.

cereal butter prawns

Cereal mix
  • ¾ cup Nestum cereal, original flavour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1½ tbsp milk powder

  • 8 medium size prawns, 300 g – trim, devein, wash, dry thoroughly
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ egg, beaten
  • 1½ tbsp plain flour

  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 30 g unsalted butter
  • 1 bird's eye chilli, thinly sliced
  • 6-10 sprigs curry leaves – rinse, dry with paper towels, discard stalks
  1. Thoroughly stir cereal, salt, sugar and milk powder. Set aside.

  2. Sprinkle prawns with salt. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with flour and mix till coated. Deep-fry in just smoking oil over maximum heat possible till just cooked. Drain.
  3. Heat butter till bubbling and lightly brown. Add curry leaves and chilli. Fry over medium heat till fragrant.

  4. Reduce heat to low. Add cereal mix. Stir till lightly golden. Curry leaves should crisp up as excess moisture is absorbed by cereal.
  5. Add prawns and toss till well mixed, turning off heat as cereal turns fully golden brown. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Plate and serve.

Har Lok (Dry-Fried Prawns)

Har lok (干煎虾碌) is a classic Cantonese prawn dish with a slight western influence. Prawns in the shell are marinated with dark soya sauce, pan-fried, then tossed in a sauce. The simple sauce is made with tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. There's lots of delicious umami flavour, and the aroma is irresistible.

Har lok was the prawn dish that ruled the scene before (relative) newbies like cereal prawns and butter prawns usurped its throne.

Pandan Leaf Chicken

Whenever I see pandan leaf chicken, I'd remember the lunch I had with my Australian boss in a Thai restaurant in Melbourne. That was a long time ago, when Australians probably weren't as familiar with Thai food as they are now.

One of the dishes we had was pandan leaf chicken and, as I chatted away, Boss did something that I still remember now. He picked up a piece of fried chicken, unwrapped it, and put the entire pandan leaf in his mouth – no chicken, just the stiff, wiry leaf!

Dry-Fried Bitter Gourd (干扁苦瓜)

Bitter gourds that are really bitter have hard, narrow ridges, and they're dark green. The less bitter ones have wide ridges, and they're softer, and more yellow.

The bitter gourds I cook are the big type that, over the years, have become less bitter. I used to sweat them before cooking but that's not necessary now.

Salt-Grilled Salmon Head

I have a great solution for people who don't eat fish heads because they don't like the eyes staring at them. Eat the eyes first, then there's nothing to stare with!

When I made my very helpful suggestion to an ang moh friend who didn't like ocular animal parts, he thought I was kidding.

Steamed Pork Ribs with Pickled Plums

Ribs again, after the last post on coffee pork ribs? Well, that's all I have in the fridge.

The last time I shopped was more than a week ago, before Chinese New Year. I tried to stock up last Sunday but there wasn't anything fresh at all.

The market and supermart were all clearing their leftovers from before the holidays. I'm guessing they'd be clearing their old stocks till this weekend, so I'm following suit. No one's fobbing off stale stuff on me!

Coffee Pork Ribs

Coffee pork ribs is a Singaporean dish popularized by celebrity chef Sam Leong. It's meaty, savory coffee you can chew. Pork ribs are marinated, deep-fried, then tossed in a sticky coffee sauce. Pork and coffee make an unusual couple but their marriage works surprisingly well.

I love food that's slightly bitter, like  bitter gourd and bitter chocolate, and anything made with coffee such as coffee cheesecake and coffee candy.