The vanilla plant is a variety of orchid that was originally cultivated in the Gulf of Mexico by the Totonac people thousands of years ago. Though used ubiquitously in sweets, the unusual pairing of vanilla and shellfish is, in fact, a classic of modern sauces. The delicate notes of the spice marry wonderfully with the sweetness of the prawns, and here the other great spice native to Mexico gives a little fire to the sauce, with just a few pequin chillies.
- 400 g large banana prawns
- 1 vanilla bean
- ½ white onion, roughly chopped
- 2 basil stalks
- 6 black peppercorns
- 3 Mexican bay leaves
- 3 fresh green pequin chillies (see Note)
- 3 parsley stalks
- 1.2 litres water
- salt, to taste
- 70 ml white wine
- 150 g unsalted butter, diced and chilled
- ¼ cup cooked baby peas
- 12 dried red pequin chillies
- ¼ cup black turtle beans, cooked, rinsed and drained
- 8 baby green onions, quickly blanched and refreshed
- ½ bunch baby basil
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Peel the banana prawns, reserving the uncooked prawn meat in the refrigerator. Place the heads and shells in a 25 cm saucepan.
Split the vanilla bean with a sharp knife. Scrape out and reserve the seeds. Roughly chop the empty bean and add to the pan with the prawn shells. Add the remaining poaching stock ingredients and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow the flavours to develop for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a non-reactive 10 cm saucepan, bring the white wine and the reserved vanilla seeds to a boil and reduce to half. Reserve.
Bring the stock back up to a steady boil and add the reserved prawn meat. Be sure to keep the stock boiling as this will ensure a firm texture. Cook for around 60 seconds, then gently remove and keep warm.
Return the reduced wine to the heat and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of salt and reduce the heat to low. Start adding the diced chilled butter, swirling the pan constantly as it melts. Continue adding the butter until it has all been combined. Add the prawns, baby peas, chillies, black beans and baby onions and gently coat the ingredients with the sauce. Serve immediately, garnished with baby basil leaves.
• Pequin chillies are available in dried form from Mexican grocers and speciality food stores. To substitute fresh, use a few slices of a small hot green chilli with the seeds removed.