I have a lot of favorite foods and would be hard pressed to pick just one. If challenged, and it really depends on the day you catch me, I might say fried shrimp. I’ve often said, usually while polishing off an order, if there was a professional eating contest for fried shrimp I could easily take the grand prize. Easily. Breaded, wrapped, battered; I love them all. But my love has a very rigid disclaimer: no crap fried shrimp and certainly none of that frozen garbage and most definitely not those fried in bad oil. That right there should be a prosecutable crime. My latest crush is from a Vietnamese restaurant that wraps the shrimp in a paper thin wrapper and fries them until nice and crispy. Oh my! A quick dunk in a sweet and spicy sauce and I start thinking about ordering another. And another. They go by many names, depending on the restaurant: shrimp spring rolls, fried shrimp wraps or maybe firecracker shrimp. I call them all delicious.
I’ve even put these on several of my class menus. At least I know they’ll be cooked properly. For one of my dim sum classes where we made a whole slew of dumplings and other Asian appetizers, firecracker shrimp were by far the runaway hit. The added bonus was we could fry up a whole mess of them and I wouldn’t have to deal with the lingering smell of fryer oil. That’s the real trick to frying: do it in someone else’s house if possible.
The real key to a successful firecracker shrimp is finding the right wrappers. You’re looking for the thin spring roll wrappers, called Vietnamese spring roll wrappers or the Filipino lumpia wrappers. These are not egg roll wrappers easily available in most grocery stores. Oh no. You’re going to have to put in a little effort here and find a Thai, Philippine or Vietnamese market and look for them in the freezer case. If that is not an option, Chinese egg roll wrappers can work but they are thicker and result in a different type of fried shrimp. Still good, just not with that paper thin wrapper. Sometimes the wrappers come in multiple sizes; I usually go for the one in the middle but it really depends on the size of your shrimp. Smaller shrimp can get by with the smaller wrappers. If you haven’t used these, I think you’ll like them. They’re paper thin but very easy to work with as they don’t dry out the way phyllo of other similar doughs do and they won’t crack. There’s a little flexibility to them that will make your life easier.
There’s also a little trick with the shrimp you should know about. To make the shrimp straight and keep them from curling up, make a series of small cuts along the inside curve of each shrimp so it will lay flat in the wrapper. Just a few nicks with a sharp paring knife will do. Then toss them with some flavorful ingredients for a quick marinade: garlic, ginger, chile paste and red curry paste. I could have sworn I picked this recipe up from the Steamy Kitchen but in searching I was unable to find it. I’ve been teaching this for so long I’m not clear of the original source, which is a shame because I’d like to give them a shout out. The red curry in the marinade is a great addition.
Next up is to wrap the marinated shrimp in those thin wrappers. It’s easy and uses that classic wrap technique I call “the burrito wrap”. I think everyone is familiar with that but if not it involved rolling the filling once or twice, tucking in the sides, then continuing to roll to seal and form a nice little packet. Same deal only one end is left open to let a pretty little shrimp tail poke out.
Fried up until golden brown and crisp, these shrimp are just as addictive as you’d assume. I’ve included a recipe for a sweet chile dipping sauce because nothing goes better with hot fried shrimp than that. If you’re having a party, make 3 or 4x more than you think because they are gone in a flash.
A quick note because I’m sure at least one of you is wondering … can these be baked? The short answer is no. I tried and they weren’t great. Frying is the way to go. However, if you insist on trying it, double wrap to get a nice protective coating of wrapper around the shrimp and then freeze them solid. They’ll cook too fast otehrwise. Lay in a single layer on a parchment or foil lined sheetpan and spray well with cooking spray. They need a little oil to at least mimic some sort of crispness. Bake in a 400°F for 15 minutes, flip and bake another 5 minutes. Proceed at your own risk.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: CRAZY ADDICTIVE. There’s something incredibly satisfying about making something as good as your local restaurant. These are those things. They come together surprisingly easily, fry up quickly, stay relatively crispy for a good period of time and disappear from the serving platter in a matter of minutes. What could possibly be better? If the mood strikes, you can easily set up your own firecracker shrimp eating contest. Be sure to invite me but considered yourself warned.
Seven years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Six years ago: Kolacky
Five years ago: Sticky Bun Bread
Four years ago: Easter Roll Call
Three years ago: Escargot Roasted Mushrooms
Two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Last year: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
RED CURRY FIRECRACKER SHRIMP WITH SWEET CHILE DIPPING SAUCE inspired in part by this recipe
Serves 6 as an appetizer
1 pound large tail-on shrimp, 20-24 count, wild caught if possible
15 Vietnamese spring roll wrappers, cut in half diagonally (2 triangles)
vegetable oil for frying
for the marinade:
1 garlic clove, finely minced
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
½ teaspoon garlic chile paste (sambal olek)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons water
- Peel the shrimp leaving the very end of the tail attached and devein, rinsing well.
- Make 4-5 small cuts in the shrimp with a sharp paring knife along the inside curve of the shrimp. This will help keep the shrimp straight rather than curling up in the spring roll wrapper.
- Combine marinade ingredients in bowl, add the shrimp, tossing to coat and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water to form a light paste.
- Wrap each shrimp tightly in a spring roll wrapper triangle.
- Place the wrapper with the point at the top and the long straight edge on the bottom.
- Brush the right hand corner of the wrapper lightly with the cornstarch paste.
- Place the shrimp just left of center with the tail just hanging off the bottom of the wrapper
- Fold the left edge of the wrapper over the shrimp
- Fold the top triangle tip over the top of the shrimp
- Roll the shrimp/wrapper to the right, rolling tightly like a cigar and creating a seal with the cornstarch paste.
- Heat the oil in a wok to 375°F and place a wire rack on a sheet pan for draining.
- Fry the shrimp until golden brown and shrimp is cooked through, maintaining the 375°F temperature, about 3-4 minutes.
- Remove and drain on the wire rack while you continue frying the remaining shrimp. Always make sure to return the oil to 375°F between batches.
- Serve hot with sweet chile sauce for dipping.
SWEET CHILE DIPPING SAUCE
makes about 1 cup
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon ketchup
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon garlic chile paste (sambal olek)
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, water and chili paste.
- Bring to a boil over medium-heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
- Give the cornstarch mixture a stir, then add it to the pan.
- Continue cooking, stirring, for about 15 seconds or until the sauce comes to a full boil and thickens.
- Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, then transfer to a serving bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.