Thai-Style Prawns with Lemon Grass

This is a dish inspired by one of my many visits to Bangkok where I frequently conduct food promotions for the Oriental Hotel. Working with their superb Thai chefs, I was able to learn the essentials of their rich and aromatic cuisine. One of my favourites consists of prawns and lemon grass, a very popular standard for their luncheon buffet.

Their version is made in a quite unusual brass wok. Your usual wok will do nicely, however. Note that, rather than being stir-fried, the prawns are simmered, and in coconut milk at that. The delicate taste of the prawns benefits from such tender care. The result is a hearty, satisfying main dish, redolent of chillies and garlic. It goes well with plain rice.


  • 450 g (1 lb) raw prawns

For the Sauce

  • 2 stalks lemon grass
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) tinned coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons seeded and chopped fresh red chilli
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh coriander
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped shallots
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons shrimp paste

For the Garnish

  • A handful of fresh basil leaves


Peel the prawns and discard the shells. Using a small sharp knife, remove the fine digestive cord. Wash the prawns and pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Peel the lemon grass stalks to reveal the tender, whitish centre and crush with flat of a knife. Cut it into 7.5-cm (3-in) pieces.

Reserve 1 tablespoon of coconut milk and set aside. Bring the rest of the coconut milk to a simmer in the wok. Add the lemon grass stalks and simmer for 10 minutes.

Combine the chilli, coriander, garlic and shallots in a blender or food processor with the reserved coconut milk and 3 tablespoons of water and mix well. Add this paste to the simmering coconut milk together with the fish sauce, sugar and shrimp paste. Continue simmering for 2 minutes. Now add the prawns and continue to simmer for 3 minutes or until the prawns are cooked. Toss in the basil leaves and give the mixture several good turns. Serve at once.