Crispy Butterflied Prawns

Butterflying prawns is a standard in almost every Chinese restaurant.

An incision is made from head to tail, and the prawn is flattened into a butterfly outline. It is not hard to do at home once you get the hang of it. Butterflying the prawns allows for fast cooking - perfect for restaurants that need to get their food out quickly.

For this recipe the prawns are served fried, which is not the preferred Chinese way of preparing shellfish of any sort. There are many other Chinese versions of this dish, but I am sure that the addition of a breadcrumb coating is a Western innovation that has now been introduced into China.


  • 450 g (1 lb) raw king or tiger prawns, peeled and deveined,
  • 675 g (1½ lb) with shells on
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 75 g (2½ oz) plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 75 g (2½ oz) dried breadcrumbs
  • 350 ml (12 fl oz) groundnut oil

For the Spicy Sweet-and-Sour Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons Chinese white rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean sauce


Combine all the ingredients for the sweet-and-sour sauce in a small bowl, mix well and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Rinse the deveined prawns in cold water and blot them dry on kitchen paper. Then butterfly the prawns by making a deep cut along the back without cutting through. They will then open flat like open books. Now combine the prawns with the salt, pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine and set aside for 20 minutes.

Remove the prawns from the marinade, dust with flour, dip them in the egg, then roll them in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Pour in the groundnut oil; when it is very hot and slightly smoking, turn the heat to medium and fry the prawns for 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown. It is best to do this in two batches. Drain them well on kitchen paper and serve at once with roasted salt and pepper dipping sauce.