Grilled Shrimp Paste on Sugarcane

Chạo Tôm

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    4 to 6

    servings as part of a multi-dish meal

Appears in

This dish is eaten by breaking some of the grilled tender shrimp “mousse” from around the sugarcane stalks, bundling it in a lettuce leaf with a rice noodle sheet, herbs, and cucumber, and then dunking it into a lime dipping sauce. It originated in Huế, central Vietnam. A small amount of pork fat enriches the shrimp paste. Finely ground roasted rice powder (sidebar pg. 244) (thính) helps create the paste’s unique texture. The paste is applied to sticks of sugarcane, steamed to firm it, and then grilled to concentrate its flavor and impart a smoky nuance.

Another serving option is to place these grilled skewers atop rice noodles with some shredded lettuce and a bowl of the lime dipping sauce. No sugarcane around? No worries. Just omit the sugarcane and make small patties instead.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. (57 g.) Minced pork fat, pork belly, or fatty trimmings from pork shoulder or butt
  • 1 lb. (454 g.) Small shrimp, peeled, de-veined, and roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. Shallot, minced
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. Fish sauce (nước mắm)
  • 2 tsp. Granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp. Ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. Finely ground roasted rice powder or store bought (substitute rice flour or cornstarch)
  • 5 pieces Sugarcane, 4-inch (10 cm.) lengths, each stalk cut lengthwise into four sticks (about one 20 oz. (567 g.) can. If available, use fresh sugarcane: peel outer edges, then cut)
  • 1 recipe Scallion oil
  • 1 head Green and/or red leaf lettuce—separate leaves, wash and spin dry, then rip into 4 to 6-inch pieces
  • ½ lb. (227 g.) Fine rice vermicelli, cooked or rice paper sheets
  • 1 small Cucumber, Kirby variety preferred, bite size julienne strips, about inch (0.3 cm.) thick
  • 8 to 12 sprigs Cilantro
  • 8 to 12 sprigs Mint
  • 1 recipe Lime dipping sauce, nước chấm and/or Vietnamese Peanut Sauce, tươc đậu phọng

Method

  1. Prepare and chill first ingredients: Simmer pork fat and two tablespoons of water in small pan over medium heat until water has evaporated and some of the fat has rendered, 5 minutes. Cool in the refrigerator. Place shrimp in work bowl of a food processor with blade and place; transfer this assembly to freezer for 10 minutes.
  2. Make the shrimp paste: Restore chilled work bowl onto food processor base; add cooled pork fat, garlic, shallots, salt, fish sauce, sugar, pepper, and rice powder. Puree, stopping occasionally to scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula, until a semi-smooth paste is attained. (For correct texture.) Mixture should gather into a solid mass. Test the paste by frying a tablespoon-sized patty in a pan; adjust seasoning as needed. Transfer mixture to container and refrigerate 30 minutes to help mixture set.
  3. Form the shrimp onto sugarcane sticks: Dampen a baking sheet, and then cover with plastic wrap. This will be your work surface. Divide shrimp paste into 2-tbsp. portions (you should have about 12). Form them into tight balls. Push sugarcane sticks through center of each ball, and then use moistened hands (paste will not stick to hands this way) to mold shrimp paste around the sticks, leaving about ¾-1 inch (1.9–2.5 cm.) of sugarcane exposed at each end. Arrange these in a single layer, spaced ½ inch (1.3 cm.) apart, into an oiled steamer basket.
  4. Steam and grill the shrimp skewers: Steam shrimp skewers over rapidly boiling water for 3 minutes, until shrimp is partially cooked and firmly and adhered to the cane. Remove from heat, but keep them covered to prevent them from drying out. This recipe can be prepared up to this point hours or even one day ahead. Very lightly coat the shrimp paste with scallion oil. Grill shrimp skewers on pre-heated grill until golden brown and heated through, about 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. Assemble the wraps: Arrange lettuce, noodles, cucumbers and herb sprigs on a platter. Each guest will begin with a swatch of lettuce, top with rice noodle, lay a piece of grilled shrimp paste on, personalize with his own choice of herbs and cucumbers, gather into a tight bundle and dip into lime dipping sauce (nước chấm).
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