Bakong, which are prawns common in the Tonlé Sap and Mekong rivers, are typically grilled. This recipe, served with a kroeung, or sauce, is an elaboration on the traditional preparation.
5 dried New Mexican chiles, stems removed
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems chopped,
leaves reserved for garnish
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 2'' piece galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 4'' piece lesser galangal
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, trimmed and
2 tsp. shrimp paste
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp. tuk trey or other Southeast Asian
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
8 large freshwater prawns
2 limes, quartered
1. Rinse chiles, then place in a medium bowl. Cover with hot water and set aside until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain chiles and remove and discard veins and seeds. (It is best to wear rubber gloves when handling chiles because oils can irritate skin.) Place chiles in a blender with garlic, cilantro stems, turmeric, and both types of galangal. Add lemongrass, shrimp paste, coconut milk, tuk trey, sugar, and 1/4 cup water and purée until smooth.
2. Preheat broiler. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Carefully add chile mixture (it may spatter) and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens and turns brick red, 5–10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Butterfly prawns by slicing each one lengthwise through underside, leaving shell intact along back. Pull out and discard dark intestine, which runs along back. Place prawns on an oiled cookie sheet, shell side down, flatten, then brush chile sauce over meat. Broil until prawns are pink and firm, about 7 minutes, then transfer to a platter. Serve garnished with lime wedges and reserved cilantro leaves.