This recipe matches sweet king prawns with a bold and spicy chipotle marinade.
HOW TO MAKE CHIPOTLE KING PRAWNS AT HOME
For the pur¨¦e
1 small onion
1 small fresh bay leaf
40g of chipotles en adobo
40ml olive oil.
10 large, raw sustainably caught king prawns
warm tortillas to serve
In a food processor, whizz together half a small peeled onion, a small fresh bay leaf, six fat cloves of peeled garlic and 20ml water to create a smooth pur¨¦e. Halfway through add 40g of chipotles en adobo. Heat 40ml olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add the pur¨¦e. Stir constantly for a few minutes to fry the chillies, then lower the heat and cook for five to 10 minutes until the sauce is thick. Allow to cool.
Add 10 large, raw sustainably caught king prawns and leave them to marinate in the sauce for a couple of hours. When you are ready to eat, cook the prawns for a few minutes on each side until they have turned pink. Smear with char-grilled lime wedges, and some warm tortillas if preferred. Serves two.
It¡¯s hard to think of chillies as anything but hot: very hot, exceedingly hot or mind-blowing. But that¡¯s underselling them. Amble around a Mexican market and you will see hundreds of different types of every colour and flavour, from the large, mild ancho to the tiny, fiery piqu¨ªn. Sweet and fruity, earthy, spicy and complex, the chilli is a master of enhancement. So it¡¯s no surprise that it¡¯s eaten in some form by a quarter of the world¡¯s population.
Chillies have been cultivated in Mexico and Peru since about 5000?bc and are believed to have been in existence for at least 2,000 years prior to that. The perennial shrubs were collected by Christopher Columbus when he arrived in the New World in 1492 while searching for India and black pepper, hence the name ¡®chilli pepper¡¯. However, it was Vasco da Gama who propelled this spice, via the Portuguese trade routes, onto the world stage, introducing it to India in 1498 and soon after to Siam (Thailand). Both countries absorbed the exciting plant into their cooking and never looked back. Portuguese sailors ate chillies to prevent scurvy ¨C their vitamin C content is more than double that of fresh oranges ¨C and eating chilli is still a great way to clear a stuffy nose.
Care is needed when handling and cooking with it. Capsaicin, the chilli¡¯s defence mechanism and its real heat, is concentrated near the seeds, membranes and stem. Birds are near immune to it and therefore able to spread the seeds. The scale to determine the heat in Scoville heat units (SHU) uses the human tongue, which can detect lower concentrations than a machine ¨C purists maintain this is still the most accurate measure.
The chilli variety I reach for time and time again is the Mexican chipotle. It adds a bold, earthy taste to a slow-cooked dish or sauce and is just as happy snuggling up to meat as to fish or vegetables. The Nahuatl name means ¡®smoked chilli¡¯; it is a ripe, red jalape?o that has been gently smoke-dried. The end result looks a little like a prune, with a heat similar to Tabasco. Chipotle can be bought as powder, dried pods, concentrated base or wet marinade ¨C or, my favourite, chipotle en adobo, a sweet, spiced sauce made with huge flavoured chillies that works well with prawns.
To smoke chillies, the trick is to dry them out in an environment that won¡¯t cook the flesh. All you need is patience and a home smoker. Place the washed red jalape?os, cut in half, inside in a single layer. Move them hourly, until they¡¯re leathery and brittle, and leave for up to 48 hours. Store in a cool, dry place. Joanna Weinberg
THE BEST WINE TO PAIR WITH CHIPOTLE KING PRAWNS
In spite of everything you may have heard, potent chilli saucing is not the death of wine. But it is the death of any beer. There¡¯s no point in drinking beer with spicy food. Invariably served lip-numbingly cold, it has no better purpose than to cleanse the palate (and for those unduly sensitive to chillies, to reduce the heat). Water would do just as well. Beer adds nothing (except to help create a more prominent belly).
Wine, on the other hand, enhances the experience of eating a spicy dish because it adds something. A good place to start is M&S, whose wine aisles boast some very interesting white specimens. If you are serving those prawns for a large party, and budget is a factor, then you must consider Tbilvino Qvevris 2015 made by Zviad Loladze from the Rkatsiteli grape in Kakheti, Georgia. A tongue-twister indeed, but with those prawns we have a delicious partnership. The bouquet offers a medley of grilled nuts, herbs and malted barley. The wine is dry, a touch tannic (yes, in a white wine!), with a suggestion of toasted sesame seeds, coriander and basil. Tasted by itself, it is a provocative white (it¡¯s slightly orange in hue, in fact), but with those prawns something magical happens. This quirky wine costs an extremely reasonable ¡ê10 a bottle.
With Orestilla Lugana Montonale 2016 from Italy, ¡ê22.50 a bottle at Berry Bros & Rudd, we are on more conventional ground. It¡¯s quite a gorgeous liquid, showing peach and citrus with grilled almond ¨C combative, complete and very complex. The texture is so finely knitted it is like embroidered satin. This merchant also has Domaine Mouton Viognier 2016 from the Rh?ne (¡ê220 for six), with the perfect balance of baked stone-fruit and a fine nutty acidity. Unoaked, unfussy, unpretentious, it is a civilised prawn companion of a very high order.
A richer choice to go with the prawns is Sch?fer-Fr?hlich¡¯s Schlossb?ckelheimer Felsenberg Grand Cru Riesling 2010 (¡ê41.35 a bottle at The Wine Barn). Nicely mature, it has the honeyed edge to meld with the chilli and a whiff of gunsmoke underpinning the perfume. But if you insist on a drier, more classic style of white, we have to head to Provence and lay hands on Clos Sainte Magdeleine Blanc 2017 (¡ê22.25 a bottle at Yapp Brothers, ¡ê49 for the even sexier magnum). This is waxily elegant and minerally, with a saline hint to it. And what could be more perfect with prawns than a wine with a hint of the salty sea? Malcolm Gluck
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By Steve King