Vietnamese Sautéed Prawns/Shrimp in Roe Sauce (Tôm Kho Tàu)

Perhaps one of my favorite all-time comfort meals that my mom always makes is Tôm Kho Tàu (Sauted Prawn/Shrimp in Roe Sauce). This Vietnamese delicacy is especially popular in the South, as the abundance of fresh seafood and the ease of preparation made this a popular dish to serve for busy families.

The key to this dish lies in the head of the prawn. The head is rich in orange colored hepatopancreas (which we also refer to as prawn roe, or tomalley). As you prepare this dish, the orange tomalley infuses into the sauce, which gives an amazingly rich, sweet, and briny flavor to the sauce that can’t be rivaled! Combine that with shrimp and scallop paste, and you got yourself on the express lane to Flavor Town.

Large prawns can make your wallet feel a little shrimpish, and one prawn per person just isn’t enough to get you full. To help with this, I recommend including some large or medium sized shrimp to help fill that plate up. As long as you have a few prawn + heads; these shrimps will taste absolutely excellent as it soaks up the tomalley goodness! (But if money isn’t a thing, definitely go the distance and stack those prawns up!)


Ingredients (approx 4 servings)
Tôm Kho Tàu
-4 large prawns (heads on, de-veined, body peeled)
-1/2 lb large/medium shrimp
-3 cloves garlic, diced
-1/4 cup garlic oil
-1/2 onion, diced
-1.5 cups water
-2.5 Tbsp sugar
-1 Tbsp table salt
-3.5 oz shrimp paste
-Optional: 1 Tbsp scallop paste
-Optional: 4 tsp annato seed oil

Garlic Oil
-6 cloves garlic, diced
-1/2 cup corn or vegetable oil

Annato Seed Oil
-2 oz annato seeds
-1 cup corn or vegetable oil

Recommended Brands

Procedure
Garlic Oil
1) Heat oil on medium heat in a saucepan.
2) Add diced garlic into the saucepan.
3) Cook until garlic has browned.
4) Filter the oil from the garlic through a strainer.
5) Use oil for Tôm Kho Tàu recipe.

Annato Seed Oil
1) Heat oil on high heat in a saucepan until boiling.
2) Add annato seeds and immediately turn off the heat.
3) With heat off, allot annato seeds to cook for approx 20 seconds.
4) Filter the oil from the annato seed remnants through a strainer.
5) Use oil for Tôm Kho Tàu recipe.

Tôm Kho Tàu
1) Add garlic oil into a pan/wok on high heat.
2) Add prawn and shrimp into the pan and cook on high heat until they turn orange on outside (approx 1 minute per side). During this step, roe in the prawn head will infuse into the oil.


3) Remove partially cooked prawns/shrimp in a separate bowl. Keep the roe-infused garlic oil in the pan.
4) Add diced garlic and onion the pan. Cook on high heat until garlic and onion caramelize.
5) Add shrimp paste, salt, sugar, water, annato seed oil, and scallop paste to the pan and cook on high heat.


6) Once boiling, add the prawns/shrimp back into the pan. Bring heat to medium and allow to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until shrimp is cooked through.
7) Serve with rice and vegetables of choice.


Observations
-Keeping the prawn head on is essential to giving the sauce not only the beautiful red color, but also gives body and richness that brings the dish to the next level
-Annatto seed oil is optional, although adding a few teaspoons will further enrich the color of the dish. If you aren’t comfortable with eating prawn heads, then annatto seeds will be a good substitute for color (although it won’t substitute the flavor you get from tomalley).
-Regular oil (corn, vegetable, olive) can be used in replacement of garlic infused oil; but using garlic oil is highly encouraged to give the dish an amazing aroma!
-Garlic oil is good for approx seven days in fridge. Do not keep for longer as cloristidium botulinum can grow in the oil and cause botulism, and that something you definitely don’t want to botch(ulism)!

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