The first time I ordered these deep-fried shrimp balls at a dim sum restaurant, they carried the honoric title of “chef’s special balls.” Yes, I just used the word balls twice in one sentence. My husband and I giggled at the English name as we ordered the crisp little wonders, coated with crunchy ribbons of noodles. Those balls were the size of golf balls and a little awkward to manage with chopsticks. I’m sure you’re smirking or laughing aloud by now. Nevertheless, they offered a nice contrast of textures and shrimp flavor. (If you've had this little wonder, what were they called in English and/or Chinese?)
It was probably the name but I’ve didn’t make chef’s special balls at home until earlier this week. Bee Yinn Low’s new Easy Chinese Recipes cookbook inspired me to do so with a recipe for “crunchy shrimp balls” which gave them a little more gravitas and got me over my giggles. (I contributed a cover blurb to the book so suffice it to say, I’ve been pondering these crunchy morsels since I reviewed the galleys months ago.) Bee is the brains behind the super popular Rasa Malaysia blog, a newish mom, and now a cookbook author.
Plumb Bee's debut cookbook and you’ll find interesting nuggets of information that she’s plucked from Asian kitchens. To frame her book “easy” is to downgrade it because “easy” often connotes shortcuts. In reality, the book is dotted with nifty tidbits to help you understand certain aspects of Chinese cooking.
For example, there’s a discussion of using baking soda to tenderize meat – a technique often used in Asia and by old school Chinese American cooks to impart a silky and tender texture to tough slices of beef. Years ago, a well known Asian food authority scowled when I mentioned it to him, saying that American beef does not need such cheap tricks. Hey, people do what they do in their kitchen so for Bee to include the technique in a matter-of-fact way is refreshing; note that she applies it to chicken, not beef.
Back to the balls. The valuable nugget that I found in Bee’s recipe for crunchy shrimp balls is the use of spring roll skins as the “noodle” for encasing the ball of shrimp paste. The skin gets cut into ribbons and is ultimately used as a skin, of sorts.
Yours truly had a frozen package of commercial spring roll skins —the kind use for Filipino lumpia, Shanghai spring rolls, and non-traditional Viet cha gio imperial rolls. I wanted to use them because they fry up to a somewhat ethereal crisp finish that holds and reheats well. Plus, the resulting crunchy shrimp balls have an arty, octopuslike look with the ribbons of spring roll skins coating them.
Wontons skins can be used but they can fry up to a matted, slightly bubby finish that I find unattractive looking and unpleasant tasting. In a pinch, use the more accessible wonton skins and buy the thinnest ones available. (See wonton skin buying tips.) Gulf shrimp were on sale at the market so I bought 12 ounces and thawed the spring roll skins for a batch. A little chopped chive from the garden added a note of color and flavor.
Crunchy Shrimp Balls
I implore you to peel and devein your own shrimp. They will taste many times better than using easy peel or peeled shrimp which have an off taste. Buy 10 to12 ounces to get you the 8 ounces of shrimp meat that you want for the balls. This recipe has been adapted from Easy Chinese Recipes.
Makes 12 balls, to serve 4 as a snack
8 ounces raw shrimp
Scant 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1generous teaspoon finely chopped chives or green onion, green part only
1. Put the shrimp in a strainer, toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt to refresh, then rinse. Pat with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Roughly chop the shrimp into large pieces and set aside.
2. In a bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 scant teaspoon salt with the egg white, pepper, sugar, both kinds of oil, and cornstarch. Add the shrimp, and stir to combine well.
3. Transfer to a small or large food processor. Grind to a coarse texture, pausing to scrape as needed, before adding the chives. Grind the shrimp a little longer to produce a sticky, somewhat smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes to develop the flavor and firm up a bit. Or, refrigerate overnight. Makes about 1 cup.
4. Separate each spring roll skin, then cut them into thin ribbons, each a scant 1/4-inch wide. You can roll 2 skins up at a time and use scissors. For even cuts, I folded the skins in half on my work surface and cut them with a knife. (It’s somewhat similar to cutting homemade udon noodles.) Set aside.
5. Use two teaspoons to shape 12 balls, each about 1-inch big. I leave the balls in the bowl as I work. Lightly wet the palms of your hands in a bowl of water then roll one of the balls between them to smooth out the rough surfaces.
Make a small pile of the ribbons and drop the ball onto the pile. Roll it around to make the ribbons adhere all over. Snip extra non-clinging bits, if you want to neaten things up. Set aside and repeat with the remaining shrimp balls.
6. Heat 1 3/4 to 2 inches of oil in a wok over medium-high heat to about 350F on a deep-fry thermometer. (If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, stick a dry chopstick in and bubbles should immediately rise to the surface if the oil is ready.) Have a rack placed in a baking sheet nearby.
Fry the shrimp balls, about 4 to 6 at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown and slightly puffed. Occasionally turn the balls with chopsticks and/or skimmer. Remove to drain on the rack. Return the oil to temperature between batches. Let cool for 5 minutes before eating with the mayo and/or hot sauce.
Reheating tip: Keep a room temperature, loosely covered, then reheat in a preheated 350F toaster oven for about 10 minutes, or until gently sizzling and hot.
More deep-fried morsels on VWK and Asian Dumpling Tips
- Sriracha and Crab Rangoon
- Modern Indian Chile Pea Puffs
- Classic Crab Rangoon Wonton
- Shanghai Dumpling King's Egg Puffs