theboywhoatetheworld cooks: Nyonya Sambal prawns

This spicy Sambal Prawn dish is one of my all time favourites and a signature at my Nyonya Supper Club. Those who followed The Taste UK last year will also recognise it as that all-important first audition dish that landed me a place on Bourdain’s team. It has a beautiful balance, depth and complexity of flavours owing to the Malaysian Nyonya influence in the sambal which has lemongrass, galangal and tamarind blended into the chilli paste. The fragrance of the sambal wafting from the pan as it sautés away takes me back home to my family’s kitchen every single time. As promised, here’s the recipe for those of you who’ve requested it in recent months.

Sambal-Prawns_0889editwebMy Nyonya Sambal Prawns (Photography by Hugh Johnson)

Ingredients (serves 4 people as a shared main course)

  • 500g raw king prawns (approx. 20 prawns) – heads on, shells removed & deveined
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 150ml – 200ml water

For the Nyonya sambal:

  • 2 stalks (40g) lemongrass – roughly chopped
  • 12 candlenuts (50g)
  • 5cm length (30g) fresh galangal – roughly chopped
  • 3cm length (15g) fresh turmeric – roughly chopped
  • 8 shallots (150g), halved
  • 4 fresh red chillies (60g) – deseeded
  • 4 dried red chillies (4g) – soaked and deseeded
  • 1.5 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1.5 tbsp brown sugar


  • Large pinch of salt (to taste)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp light brown sugar (to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp light soya sauce (to taste)

Garnish (optional):

  • 1 shallot (30g) – sliced finely and deep-fried till crispy (you can use store-bought as well)
  • Mint leaves


  1. Combine all the sambal ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste. Heat up 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan, then sauté’ the sambal for 7 – 8 minutes until fragrant, stirring constantly to prevent it from burning. Next, add 150ml water to loosen the sambal and season with salt, brown sugar, soya sauce and fish sauce to taste. Set aside the sambal until needed.
  1. Pan-fry the prawns in a separate sauté pan with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for 1 minute on each side. Remove before they are fully cooked through and set aside (this will prevent over-cooking of the prawns when they are warmed with the sambal later). Deglaze the pan with 3 tablespoons of water and reserve the prawn cooking juices.
  1. Warm the sambal up then add the reserved prawn cooking juices. Add the prawns to the sambal and cook for 1 – 2 minutes until fully cooked through. Dish out the sambal prawns and garnish with some small mint leaves and deep-fried, crispy shallots. Serve with steamed rice or coconut rice on the side.