Ginataan Na Sugpo (Prawns with Coconut Milk)

published Oct 18, 2021
Ginataan Na Sugpo Recipe (Prawns with Coconut Milk)

Head-on prawns are cooked in an aromatic coconut broth infused with lemongrass, anchovies, ginger, and chiles.

Serves4 to 6

Prep30 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 50 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe

This dish evokes memories of my childhood on the North Side of Chicago, where I grew up in a large and established Filipino American community. It is closely intertwined with my experiences of the Filipino and Asian food markets we frequented for our pantry staples. (This was before the “International” aisle existed in mainstream grocery stores.) These markets left an indelible sensory memory that still lives in my nose. They smelled savory and earthy — like dried, salted, and fermented things — and the air inside always carried a whiff of briny seafood and a note of musty cardboard from the many items that had traveled halfway around the world.

We went to markets like RC Trading, Unimart, and Việt Hoa to buy live crabs for ginataan na alimasag (crabs in coconut milk), a dish that hails from Bicol, the region in southeastern Luzon where both of my parents grew up. Buying the live crabs was a trip! They were always trying to crawl out of the paper bag we took them home in, and made lots of noise in protest of their captivity. When we got home from the market, I would sit on a chair next to my mom at the sink and watch her clean the crabs, snapping their claws off so they couldn’t pinch her.

Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe

The version of the dish I’m sharing here — called ginataan na sugpo — is made with head-on prawns (sugpo), which are more readily available than live crabs. It will always be in rotation in my home kitchen because it includes two hallmarks of Bicolano cooking: the savory use of coconut milk, and spicy heat! Thanks to those small, immigrant-owned markets in Chicago, this dish connected me to my roots and gave me a taste of where my parents are from.

Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe
Genevieve Villamora

My mother always made this dish with greens. In a kitchen garden in the Philippines, you might find gabi (taro leaves), talbos ng kamote (sweet potato tops or shoots), or dahon ng sili (chile leaves.) Here I use leaves from the chile plants in my backyard. (This year I’m growing a spicy Indonesian heirloom chile called lombok.) Baby spinach would be a delicious substitute, and it’s what my mom usually used.

Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe
Woldy Reyes

Ginataan Na Sugpo Recipe (Prawns with Coconut Milk)

Head-on prawns are cooked in an aromatic coconut broth infused with lemongrass, anchovies, ginger, and chiles.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 50 minutes

Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 (2-inch) piece


  • 2 to 3

    serrano or jalapeño peppers (depending on desired spice level)

  • 1/2 bunch

    medium scallions (4 to 5)

  • 1 1/2

    medium red onions

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 3 stalks

    fresh lemongrass

  • 1 tablespoon

    canola oil

  • 2 (2-ounce) tins

    oil-packed anchovy fillets, such as Cento

  • 2

    large tomatoes (about 14 ounces total)

  • 3 cups

    chile leaves, sweet potato greens, or baby spinach (about 3 ounces)

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    raw, unpeeled prawns or extra-jumbo shrimp, preferably head-on (13 to 20 per pound)

  • 2 (about 13-ounce) cans

    full-fat unsweetened coconut milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving


  1. Prepare the following, placing each in the same medium bowl as you complete it: Peel and mince 2 inches ginger (about 2 tablespoons). Trim the stems from 2 serrano or jalapeño peppers (depending on heat preference), then slice into thin rounds (about 2 1/2 tablespoons). (If you’d like the dish extra-spicy, thinly slice the third pepper and place in a separate small bowl.) Thinly slice the green and white parts of 1/2 bunch medium scallions (about 1 cup). Finely chop 1 1/2 medium red onions (1 1/2 cups). Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lime (about 1 tablespoon).

  2. Trim 3 stalks lemongrass until you have 6 to 7 inches of the bottom portion. Halve each stalk lengthwise, then smash the base end of the stalks with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Tie the stalks together tightly with kitchen twine to make a little bundle.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until shimmering. Add the lemongrass bundle, contents of the medium bowl, and 2 (2-ounce) tins anchovy fillets and the oil they’re packed in. Break up the anchovy fillets into small pieces with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the scallions are a dull green and the onions have fully released their liquid and are a light golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, cut 2 large tomatoes into large dice (about 2 cups). Cut the zested lime into wedges and set aside for serving.

  5. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have collapsed and the liquid they released thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and dry 3 cups greens of choice. Rinse 1 1/2 pounds prawns in cold water. Trim the antennae off with kitchen shears if needed. If desired, cut up the back of each prawn and remove the vein.

  6. Add 2 cans coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about a quarter, 10 to 12 minutes.

  7. Add the prawns and stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir. Cover and simmer until the prawns are pink and opaque, about 2 minutes more. Taste and season the sauce with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed.

  8. Turn off the heat. Add the greens and remaining serrano or jalapeño if desired and stir to combine. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit until the greens wilt but are still a vibrant bright green, about 2 minutes. Discard the lemongrass bundle. Serve with jasmine rice and the lime wedges.

Recipe Notes

Using crabs: To make the dish with crabs, you can follow the recipe as-is with a few adjustments. Buy at least a dozen crabs for four to six people. Keep in mind that live crabs are trickier and more time-consuming to clean. Use a taller, larger pot so they will all fit inside. They will take about 15 to 20 minutes longer to cook than the prawns.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat over low heat until warmed through.