Our Go-To Fired Sambuca Prawns

By Max Tims
Sambuca Prawns on Speckled White Stoneware

Sambuca flamed prawns have all the makings of a go-to dish. It’s shareable, dippable, and you light it on fire. What else can you ask for? After the Sambuca is flambéed the harsh anise and black licorice flavors fade and give way to a beautifully sweet flavor. The prawns are perfectly cooked, sweet with a bite, and the tomatoes break down slightly to form for a delicious sauce with the reduced Sambuca. Throw in a little lemon juice in the mix for some acidity and you have a wonderful dish. So wonderful, in fact, that it may become more well known than the person cooking it… True story.  


What you’ll need to get started

The ingredient list is fairly short. You’ll need:

  • 1 lb prawns (size 13/15 or 16/20), thawed
  • 1 small container of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch of chili flakes
  • 3/4 cup of sambuca 
  • A healthy glug of grapeseed or canola oil
  • A small handful of basil, thinly sliced
  • 1 sliced baguette, for dipping

fired prawns

The prawns. We love the bigger prawns with the shell on. You can opt for prawns with the shell removed if you want an easier to eat a dish, but the shells add wonderful flavor to the sauce. Plus, this is a dish you eat with your hands so we don’t mind getting a little dirty. Size-wise, I'd stick to 13/15 or 16/20 if you can find them (26/30 and 31/35 will do in a pinch). 

Hot Prawn Tip: Ever wonder what these sizes mean? For prawns (or scallops), the ranges tell you how many prawns you get per pound. So, 13/15 means you have between 13 and 15 prawns per pound. These 13/15 prawns are quite a bit larger than 31/35, and so with smaller prawns, you need to take them out sooner to prevent them from being overcooked. Contrary to popular belief, frozen prawns are a great option. In fact, most “fresh” prawns are actually just thawed frozen prawns. Nowadays, prawns can get frozen right on the boat they’re caught on, making frozen prawns on of the best ways to enjoy prawns. To thaw, simply empty the frozen prawns into a bowl, fill the bowl with cool water and place it into your sink under a very slow trickle of water from the tap. The trickle helps agitate the water and thaw your prawns quickly. Don’t put them in the microwave or anything crazy like that. They’ll take 10 or 20 minutes. Just wait. 

As for the Sambuca, anything kind of entry-level sambuca works. We use Luxardo Sambuca because it’s most available here. No sense in bringing out any fancy sambuca as you’ll be flambéing it.

Let’s talk safety… Seriously. Read this section

So you’ve read this far, and you’re eager to add Sambuca prawns to your arsenal of dishes. We can’t wait for you to get started. But, lighting alcohol on fire in your kitchen is serious business, and you can get in a lot of trouble if you’re not careful. We’ve burned our eyebrows more than once by underestimating how large of a sambuca flame we are going to create. 

A couple of tips:

  1. First, NEVER add sambuca to a pan that is sitting on your stove. Always remove the pan first, and add the sambuca well away from the heat source. This is especially necessary for anyone with a gas range. If you add sambuca right to the pan over a gas flame you will have no control when the sambuca ignites, and it’s a recipe to burn your eyebrows off or worse. Always remove the pan from the heat when you add in the sambuca.
  2. We use a long lighter to light the sambuca at home, this lets me stay well away from the igniting sambuca and lets me control when the alcohol lights. 
  3. More heat on the pan means bigger flames. If your flames are getting out of hand, move the pan off the heat source and wait for the flames to die down. If you’re feeling badass you can also just blow out the flame. Be careful though.
  4. Hell, watch a youtube video for how to Flambée if you haven’t done it before. This dish will not make you look cool if you melt your friend’s kitchen fan in the process of making it. 

fired prawn cooking

With safety warnings out of the way, here are the steps.

    1. Thaw your prawns. Simply empty the frozen prawns into a bowl, fill the bowl with cool water and place into your sink under a very slow trickle of water from the tap. Wait 10 to 20 minutes until thaw, then drain and pat dry with a paper towel. 
    2. While your prawns are thawing, slice the tomatoes in half. Slice the lemon in half (so it’s easy to juice). Mince the clove of garlic, place in a small bowl. Take the chili flakes out of your cupboard.  Slice your baguette. Measure out the Sambuca.
    3. Slice basil. If you want to be fancy you can make a chiffonade of basil.  Just stack, roll, and slice. Stack the leaves on top of each other, gently roll them into a cigar, and then use a sharp knife to slice them into thin ribbons.
    4. Get ready. This dish comes together fast, so you need to be prepared. Get all ingredients close to the stove and ready to go.
    5. Add a metal sautee pan over medium-high heat. We don’t like to use Teflon when we flambée, so stick to something that can be on fire.
    6. Once hot, add a healthy glug of grapeseed or canola oil (or any oil with a high smoke point). Wait until the oil is shimmering (just before smoking). This pan needs to be hot.
    7. Carefully add in the prawns, being mindful of spattering oil.. Do not overfill the pan - each prawn should more or less be in full contact with the pan.
    8. Cook the first side for a minute or two until you see some color on the shells (they should be turning a nice shade of golden brown). Season the prawns with salt (about 1-2 tsp of kosher salt will do)
    9. Now we start to move quickly. Flip the prawns so that the uncooked side is now down, and quickly add in all the tomatoes at once. Cook them for 30s.
    10. Then add in a small pinch of chili flakes and minced garlic. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan for 10-30s until the garlic is cooked and fragrant. Don’t burn the garlic!
    11. Now remove the pan from the heat, and quickly add in all the measured sambuca at once. The sambuca will quickly come to a boil. While the sambuca is away from the heat source, use a long lighter to light the sambuca. Keep in mind that the alcoholic vapor that is boiling is also flammable. Expect a nice little flame explosion. Be careful. Don’t look over the dish as you light it. Don’t be stupid.
    12. Now we have the sambuca on fire, and you can control the size of the flames by putting the pan back on the heat and taking it off the heat. If you’re feeling pro, you can juice half lemon over the sambuca prawns while there are still some flames.
    13. Quickly the flames will die off, place the pan back on the heat and cook for another 30s or so. Now you can start to taste the sauce with a spoon. Be careful, this shit was just on fire.
    14. Check for seasoning (does it need any more salt?), and acidity (does it need any more lemon?).
    15. Remove from heat and pour the prawns, tomatoes, and sauce into a serving bowl. Sprinkle the basil on top.
    16. Serve with sliced bread and some Aesop side plates. We love when everyone dives in and grabs a few prawns, and then the sauce becomes a bit of a communal dip for everyone's bread. There are few things better than this sauce on a nice baguette.
    17. Revel in the glory of producing an incredible dish, with a bit of a show to boot!

Leave any questions and comments below, and as always we love to see if you make this at home. Tag us @dinewithfalbe to be featured. Good luck and be careful!