This prawn ball soup is one of my favourite weekend brunches, with homemade stock and prawn balls.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Table of contents
Eurasian Prawn Ball Soup
This prawn ball soup is very similar to the Nyonya Pong Tauhu, which is a Chinese New Year dish for many Nyonya families. Essentially, we have homemade prawn balls in a lightly flavoured broth (soup). The prawn balls here are delicate and airy, nothing like the usual dense Chinese fishballs or meatballs that we would use in other recipes, like in this sambal fishball.
This is a recipe I learnt years and years ago from my old friend, Hyacinth. That’s her, sitting on the extreme left as you look at the picture. We met at my local gym and I was thoroughly impressed with her, she was at least a decade older than me and just so cool!
Apparently, this was a family recipe that she’d always had but not cooked much, and was very happy to share. You know me, always happy to inherit recipes!
This Eurasian version of the prawn ball soup is a slightly simpler affair in terms of flavour. It’s lighter and doesn’t have that full on taste that’s synonymous with the Peranakan Pong Tauhu.
This is what we’ll be doing:
- Clean the prawns, reserving the shells if you have shell on prawns.
- Clean the shells and make a quick prawn stock (15 minutes).
- Chop all aromatics.
- Mince the prawns with a sharp knife or cleaver (about 5 minutes).
- Mix everything and make the prawn ball paste (2-3 minutes).
- Form the prawn balls.
- Get the soup started and cook the balls and vegetables (5 minutes roughly). Done.
What do you think? Sounds doable, right?
The Prawn Balls
Unlike the traditional Chinese fishballs, meatballs or the Indonesian Bakso, our prawn balls are light and airy. The other are dense, and have a springy and chewy texture because of the way they are made. If you take a look at the recipes above, we make the ball pastes in a food processor, or the traditional method, by slamming it down on the counter a gazillion times, to achieve that dense texture.
In our prawn ball soup however, all we do is mix all the ingredients together by hand, using just a little cornflour and tofu as the binders. We then shape the paste into balls. No processing, nothing. That means these prawn balls are a whole lot easier to make!
Ideally, you want fresh and raw prawns to cook this recipe. If you can get them with shell on, even better, because we then use the shells to add even more flavour to the soup.
If you can’t get fresh, raw prawns, frozen raw prawns will work just as well.
Never, ever use cooked prawns (or mussels, scallops, etc) for any dish, unless you’re planning to serve the seafood cold without reheating.
Why? Because precooked seafood, with the exception of crabs and lobsters, just doesn’t have anymore flavour to impart to any dish you are cooking. It’s all gone in the initial cooking process, you might as well use paper or cardboard!
Tofu is a traditional ingredient when making prawn balls for the Nyonya Pong Tauhu. That’s been retained in this Eurasian version; the tofu acts as a binder as well as lending softness to the balls.
You could even use tofu with medium firmness, but I like the way silken tofu just falls apart and blends with the other ingredients.
The Chicken Stock
Chicken stock forms the base of our soup itself.
If you can, I urge you to make your own chicken stock for this, especially if you don’t live in East or South East Asia. The chicken stock we use here in this recipe is of Chinese inclination, which is a lighter affair than its Western counterpart. Chinese chicken stock, as you will see from the article and recipe here, has minimal flavouring, with no vegetables added.
I published the recipe for Homemade Chinese Chicken Stock last week in anticipation of today’s recipe. You can make it a couple of days early, or freeze it if made before. So I’m not including the chicken stock in this recipe, because it’s been covered.
If you want to use shop bought, hey I’m not going to judge!
Aromatics and Vegetables
We have the usual suspects of garlic and ginger, with a little help from spring onions (scallions) and fresh coriander leaves (cilantro). I think they should all be easily available, no matter where you live, right?
As far as the vegetables are concerned, they only play a small part in our prawn ball soup. Traditionally, it would be Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage/wombok) that would be used. But I often use the humble white cabbage for this, as I tend to have that around more often, as it lasts a long time in the fridge.
You can also add some spinach or pak choi, for a little green. But whatever you do, go easy, as the prawn balls are the star of this show.
This is completely optional. Cellophane noodles or soo hoon as we call them, are often used as an ingredient in soups and stews like sayur lemak. We don’t cook them as noodles, but instead use them to add interest and texture to our dishes.
So you could do the same here, if you like, or skip them. You should be able to find them in any East Asian store or here’s my affiliate link to get them on Amazon.
We use cornflour, as mentioned earlier, to bind it all together. You could also use potato starch, if that’s your thing, although not traditional.
Then you have the usual salt, pepper and light soy sauce, nothing to write home about, methinks. Light soy sauce is the lightest and salty one, and is the generic soy sauce mentioned in many recipes. In my recipes though, I always specify if it’s light, dark or sweet (kicap manis).
How to Serve Prawn Ball Soup?
This would traditionally be eaten with rice, as many South East Asian meals are. Some sort of sambal is a must with this, chilli chuka, published not too long ago, is the perfect condiment with its tart and spicy flavours.
A Chinese chilli oil, shop bought or homemade, like this one on LinsFood, is also perfect.
If you fancy noodles, you could increase the amount of cellophane noodles in there, or serve this prawn ball soup with some rice vermicelli. Given the subtle nature of the flavours, rice vermicelli is the best option, as wheat noodles need more robust soups and flavours.
And now, shall we get cooking?
If you enjoy the recipe, drop me a comment and let me know. And if you are feeling like a star, don’t forget that 5-star rating!
If you make this recipe, post it on Instagram and tag me @azlinbloor and hashtag it #linsfood.
More Eurasian Recipes
Eurasian Prawn Ball Soup
- 2 spring onions (scallions) just the white part (reserve the green for the soup)
- 2 sprigs coriander leaves (cilantro)
- 500 g uncooked prawns (shrimp)
- 200 g silken tofu
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ Tbsp cornflour
- 1½ Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 5 cm ginger
- 2 spring onion (the green part)
- 1 litre homemade Chinese chicken stock (click for recipe) or 1 litre water + 2 stockpots or cubes
- the shells from your prawns if available
- 250 ml water only if you have prawn shells
- ½ Tbsp light soy sauce
- 200 g Chinese cabbage or regular white cabbage
- 2 handfuls spinach or pak choi optional (I'm not using it in the image here)
- 1 "bunch" soo hoon (mung bean thread) optional
Cleaning the Prawns
If using shell on prawns: twist the head off carefully, removing all the shell but the tail end. The intestinal vein that runs along the back of the prawn should be visible and just sticking out. Give it a firm but gentle pull. If it's stuck, use a small knife to cut a shallow groove along the back and take the vein out and discard.
When done, place the prawns to one side. Then, give all the heads and shells a clean by squeezing the gunk out and rinsing them.
Quick Prawn Stock
Heat ½ a Tbsp of oil in a small saucepan on medium-low heat and fry the cleaned shells for 1 minute. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Leave to simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, removing any scum that might be floating at the top.
I didn't add much water here, so you won't be getting much stock. This is because we'll be adding it to the chicken stock, it's really the essence of the shells we are going for to add more flavour to our final soup. When done, strain and set aside, or as I do, strain straight into the chicken stock.
Prep Work (Chopping and Stuff)
Chop up the spring onions and coriander leaves for the prawn balls finely. Add to a large bowl. Slice the garlic and ginger, width wise. Slice the cabbage thinly, no matter which type you're using. If using pak choi, separate the leaves, clean and set aside.
Make the Prawn Balls
Using a large, sharp knife or cleaver, mince the prawns finely, as much as you can. Don't worry about the odd tiny lump. Add to the bowl.
Add the silken tofu into the bowl, crumbling it as you go. Add the white pepper, salt and cornflour.
Using your hands, mix everything up well, mashing up the tofu as you go along.
Rinse your hands, and with slightly wet hands, form balls from this prawn and tofu paste. To make fairly similar sized balls, I usually divide the mixture in half, then half again, giving me 4 quarters. Then I proceed to form 4 fairly equal sized prawn balls from each quarter. Set aside, while we move on to the soup.
Prawn Ball Soup
I'm assuming you've made the chicken stock, if not, that's something we want to do about 3 hours before we start on the prawn balls. Unless you're using stock cubes or stockpots. Heat 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil in a large saucepan on medium heat and fry the chopped garlic, ginger and spring onion greens for 30 seconds.
Add the chicken stock or water plus stock cubes. If you have homemade prawn stock from the shells, add that in too. Bring to a simmer, then add the cabbage and soy sauce.
Now, very gently, drop your prawn balls into your simmering soup, one at a time. Don't burn your fingers. Use a ladle to transfer the balls into the soup, if you prefer, so as not to scald your fingers. These prawn balls are delicate so go easy. You could place 2 or 3 in a ladle and carefully ease them into the soup if you like.
If using mung bean thread, add it in now. Bring back to a simmer, then cook for 3 minutes. Add pak choi or spinach and heat through for a minute. Taste the soup and add more soy sauce or salt if needed. Serve with some rice or noodles, as described in the article above. Have some sambal or chilli chuka at hand to complete the soup.