Adapted from “Vietnamese Home Cooking,” by Charles Phan. This recipe will work without shrimp heads, but Phan says the heads add richness to the sauce. The recipe also calls for homemade roasted chile paste (there is a recipe in the book), but you can also purchase jarred roasted chile paste.
- 2 pounds medium head-on shrimp in their shells, or purchase peeled and deveined shrimp if you wish
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 Thai chiles, stemmed and halved on the diagonal
- 1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 2- by 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons roasted chile paste
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce
- 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
- — Steamed white or brown rice
Instructions: Use scissors to remove the sharp spike at the tail of each shrimp and the spike in the center of the head. Cut off the eyes and discard, then separate the head from the body. Set the heads aside. Peel each shrimp body, removing the tail segments, then devein. Sprinkle bodies with the pepper; set aside.
Pour the oil into a 2-quart clay pot or high-sided skillet, and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, chiles and reserved shrimp heads and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and chile paste; cook, stirring, about 1 minute more. Add the caramel sauce and stock; stir to combine.
Add the shrimp bodies, and toss to coat with the aromatic ingredients. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes, until the shrimp are bright pink.
Serve directly from the clay pot, accompanied by steamed rice.