One of the joys of eating in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is that you can have breakfast at a street stand run by a couple from Hunan, lunch at a simple restaurant where the chef is from Peking, and dinner at a splendid restaurant devoted to the food of Shanghai, all within the space of one short block. Then, either between meals or once you have recovered, you can go around the comer and find a restaurant run by Taiwanese that features shrimp fritters such as the ones that follow.
Peel and devein the shrimp. Rinse with cool water, pat dry, then chop into tiny pea-size bits.
Put the flour, water, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife or in a blender. Process for 2 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and thick, then scrape the mixture into a medium bowl.
Add the ginger, coriander, scallion, and chili sauce to the batter, stirring well to blend. Add the shrimp, then stir to combine. Seal airtight and allow to sit for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before frying.
Just before frying, stir the batter several times, then gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg white until the mixture is well blended. Have the shrimp mixture, a tablespoon, a Chinese mesh spoon or slotted spoon, a pair of chopsticks, and a baking sheet or jelly-roll pan lined with a triple thickness of paper towels all within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a serving platter of a color to contrast prettily with the shrimp in a low oven to warm. Ready the pepper-salt and mustard sauce in small bowls or dip dishes to accompany the platter.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add the oil (if you are using a skillet, pour it ¾ inch deep), then heat to the pre-haze stage, 350° on a deep-fry thermometer, when a drop of batter rises to the surface in 3–4 seconds surrounded by a ring of white bubbles. Adjust the heat so the temperature does not rise.
Stir the batter gently once or twice more to bring the shrimp to the surface, then drop a tablespoon of the batter into the oil. The batter will sink straight to the bottom and take 5–6 seconds to rise. Once the first fritter rises to the surface, drop the next tablespoon of batter into the oil, and so on, frying as many fritters in one batch as have room to float on the surface of the oil. As you work, regulate the heat so the fritters fry at a constant 350°, each rising within 5–6 seconds surrounded by a ring of white bubbles.
Fry until evenly golden, about 1½ minutes total per fritter, turning the fritter over with chopsticks once midway through the frying. Remove the fritters promptly to the paper-towel drain while they are still golden and not yet brown.
If you are frying in batches, remember to allow sufficient time for the oil to regain its original high temperature, retesting the oil with a fresh drop of batter before beginning the second batch. When you get the hang of it, you will probably find it easiest to drop a fresh tablespoon of batter into the oil after each cooked fritter leaves the pot, that is, frying continuously rather than in batches.
Serve promptly, when the fritters are at their just-fried best. If necessary, you may hold the fritters on the paper-towel drain in a 250° oven for several minutes between batches, but any longer and they tend to grow oily. I like to send them to the table freshly made, and then arrive at the table several minutes later with the second batch in hand.
Arrange the fritters on the heated platter, garnished with coriander and accompanied by the dishes of pepper-salt and mustard. Encourage everyone to try the first fritter plain, and then sprinkle the next one with a dash of pepper-salt or a dip in the mustard.
Leftovers are tasty cold if you share the penchant for nibbling on cold fried leftovers. Reheated, they grow oily.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.