Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Crustacean Pesto Pasta…My Version

I love Hokkien prawn noodle soup. Its broth, especially, smelled heavenly after all those hours of simmering in pork bones, prawn shells and other spices. I ate it often, and any time of day -- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even supper.
Dried prawn shells - cheap and good

But preparing it at home is not a cheap affair. You need literally tons of prawn shell for the broth. However, on a recent trip to Hong Kong, I found dried prawn shells that cost a fraction of the price of fresh ones.

Five years ago, I had a wonderful rigatoni tossed in crustacean oil prepared by Chef Anderson Ho. To me, it was like prawn noodle ‘ala modern style’ with a more ‘stylo’ touch. Le Papillon, where Chef Anderson served this acclaimed dish, has since closed; but I was lucky to have had a chance to taste it. I even shamelessly pestered Chef Anderson to cook the dish for me at his home – and he did a couple of times!
Prawn roe - washed, dried and roasted

Inspired by its flavors, I attempted my own version of modern-style Prawn Noodle, adapting the Pesto Pasta method from the Italian. Most thrilling was preparing the crustacean oil using the dried prawn shells I bought from Hong Kong, and garlic. I used roasted candlenut instead of pine nuts, to give the recipe an Asian touch, and finished off with dried prawn roe. Just a point to note, however, dried prawn roe is increasingly difficult to find in Hong Kong, and also increasingly expensive -- but just a dash of it adds a different dimension to the dish.

The end product may be a far cry from Chef Anderson’s creation, but I had fun preparing and eating it!

Spaghetti in Crustacean Pesto with Tiger Prawn and Dried Prawn Roe

Angel hair spaghetti    120 g
Water                               2 litres
Salt                                    2 tsp
Tiger prawns                 4, shelled and grilled
Arugula                           20 g
Prawn roe                      ½ tsp
Pepper                            to taste

Crustacean Pesto:
Candlenut                     10
Garlic                              2 cloves
Dried shrimps             5 g, soaked in warm water for 20 mins, and drained
Crustacean oil            100 ml
Salt                                 to taste

Crustacean Oil:
Oil                                   ½ cup
Dried prawn shells   100 g or 300 g of fresh prawn shells/heads
Garlic                             25 g, minced
Tomato paste             2 tbsp
Butter                            80 g                        

  1. Boil salted water for spaghetti.
  2. Meanwhile, sauté the candlenuts, dried shrimps, garlic for 10 mintues. Let it cool.
  3. Combine fried candlenuts, dried shrimps, garlic, salt, and crustacean oil, and pound into a paste using mortar and pestle.
  4. Boil spaghetti according to package instruction, then drain.
  5. While boiling the spaghetti, grill prawns until just cooked.
  6. Toss spaghetti with prawn pesto thoroughly.
  7. Lay some arugula on the plate; follow with spaghetti, grilled prawns, dried prawn roe. Drizzle some crustacean oil before serving.
  8. To heighten the dish with a more Asian touch, I included fried garlic as garnishing.
Crustacean Oil:
  1. Fry prawn shells in a dry wok until the water evaporates. Add oil and garlic and continue to fry until garlic turns golden brown.
  2. Add tomato paste and butter and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Cool and refrigerate it for 2 days.
  4. Drain the shells and keep the crustacean oil.