Gold Coin Shrimp Cakes

麵包蝦餅

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes 20 shrimp toast, enough to serve

    6–12

    as part of a multicourse meal .

Appears in

It is uncertain when shrimp toast entered the Chinese repertoire, but what is clear is that they are almost universally bad—anemic-looking slabs of shrimp plastered atop squares of greasy Wonder Bread. Horrors!

  • Here is the ultimate shrimp toast, a plush purée of colorfully garnished shrimp crowning an oblong slice of crusty French baguette. In search of Chinese roots, I gamely tried all manner of Chinese breads, but the French won out, even over San Francisco sourdough.
  • This is a stunning hors d’oeuvre, a dramatic opener for any meal. The food processor blends the purée in seconds, and the only work is spreading it on the bread. The shrimp toast may be assembled several hours in advance, but fry them at the last minute for full beauty and flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1–2 dense-textured French baguettes (to yield 20–25 oblong slices ½–¾ inch thick)

Shrimp paste

  • ¾ pound fresh shrimp (for information on “fresh” shrimp)
  • 6 large water chestnuts, fresh best
  • 1 large walnut-size nugget fresh ginger
  • 1 medium scallion, white and light green parts only
  • tablespoons minced fresh lard (equals ¾ ounce)
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 large egg white

Garnishes

  • 20–25 perfect small coriander leaves or tiny scallion branches
  • about 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 2–3 tablespoons finely minced Smithfield ham
  • 4–6 cups fresh corn or peanut oil, for deep-frying

Dip sauce

  • 2 tablespoons quality ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ¼ teaspoon Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry

Method

Slicing and drying the bread

Cut the baguettes on a diagonal to yield 20–25 ovals about 3 inches long and ½–¾ inch thick. Use a serrated knife for a clean, neat cut. Discard any slices with holes in them.

Spread the bread on a rack until dry on top, about 2 hours, then flip and dry the other side. If you are in a rush or your kitchen is humid, spread the slices on a baking sheet and dry in a 200° oven, turning them over once the top is dry. Bag airtight in plastic until ready to use, overnight if you wish.

Making the shrimp paste

Shell and devein the shrimp. Rinse with cool water and drain.

Peel fresh water chestnuts and cut into peppercorn-size bits. Blanch canned water chestnuts in plain boiling water to cover for 15 seconds, then drain immediately and chill under cold running water. Cut as above.

Mince the ginger and scallion in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, scraping down as necessary until fine. Add the shrimp, lard, and salt and mince to a near-paste. Add the wine, water, and cornstarch and process until smooth. Alternatively, mince the ginger and scallion by hand, mince the shrimp to a fine paste with one or two equally weighted cleavers, then combine with the lard, salt, wine, water, and cornstarch, stirring until smooth. (By hand, it will take about 15 minutes.)

Stir in the water chestnuts by hand to preserve their texture. Beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the purée, stirring until blended. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the mixture to seal it airtight, and refrigerate until use, overnight if you wish.

Forming the shrimp toast

Have the shrimp mixture, bread slices and garnishes at hand. Lightly oil a broad, flat knife or metal spatula, so the shrimp will not stick. Slice by slice, mound the shrimp evenly on the bread, using the spatula to press it evenly and firmly all around to form a flat plateau ½ inch high, with smooth, gently sloped sides meeting the edge of the bread. Garnish with a coriander leaf or scallion branch in the middle, a light sprinkle of ham at one end, and a dusting of sesame seeds at the other end. Press lightly with your finger to make the garnishes adhere.

Put the finished slices on a plate or tray. They may be refrigerated, loosely covered, for several hours.

Frying and serving

About 20 minutes before serving, put the shrimp toast, a tray lined with a double thickness of paper towels, a Chinese mesh spoon, and cooking chopsticks or wooden tongs within easy reach of your stovetop. Combine the dip sauce ingredients and set aside in a small serving bowl. Put a serving platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.

Heat a wok or large, deep skillet over high heat until hot. Add the oil, and heat to the light-haze stage, 350° on a deep-fry thermometer, when a bit of shrimp paste floats to the surface within 3–4 seconds. One by one, gently slip the toast shrimp side down into the oil, frying as many as can float freely at one time and adjusting the heat so they rise quickly to the surface surrounded by bubbles. Fry about 4 minutes until the shrimp is reddish-gold, then turn the toast over to lightly brown the bread. Do not overcook the shrimp, which will continue to cook from its own heat after it leaves the oil. Scoop the toasts from the oil with the spoon and put them bread side down on the towel-lined tray. The finished toasts can be kept warm in a 325° oven while the rest are being fried. Do not hold more than 5 minutes in the oven or they will shrivel.

Arrange the shrimp toast on the platter like the petals of a flower with the dish of dip sauce in the center.

Leftovers are tasty for snacking if you enjoy cold fried foods. Do not reheat.

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