Stir-fried Cabbage with Dried Prawns

Most first-generation Chinese-Americans like me grew up in relatively modest circumstances. Our parents had to keep a sharp eye on the budget. However, this parsimony never strictly applied to food.

Even for everyday eating, many of our parents could turn an inexpensive food like cabbage into an extremely tasty dish. Necessity is indeed one of the mothers of invention.

My friend Gordon Wing recalls that his mother used to add tiny bits of dried prawns to an everyday food like cabbage, thus making it something really special. Because the dried prawns were expensive, his mother very carefully apportioned them, but, after all, a little goes a long way. Extravagance was saved for special occasions, when budget considerations went out of the window. I know that Gordon never complained about this dish.

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  • 25 g (¾ oz) dried prawns
  • 5 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1½ tablespoons salt
  • 900 g (2 lb) shredded cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil


Soak the dried prawns in the rice wine for 1 hour or until they are slightly soft. Remove them from the rice wine with a slotted spoon and reserve both the prawns and the wine.

Meanwhile, add the 1½ tablespoons of salt to cold water and soak the cabbage in this for 1 hour. Drain the cabbage.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the dried prawns and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the cabbage, salt and pepper and continue to stir-fry for 2 minutes. Now pour in the soy sauce and the rice wine that was set aside. Cook over a high heat for 10 minutes, or until the cabbage is completely cooked. Swirl in the sesame oil and give the mixture several stirs. Serve at once.