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How to make shrimp crunchy? http://rasamalaysia.com/how-to-make-shrimps-crunchy/
August 15th, 2009 160 Comments

How to make shrimp crunchy?

How to make shrimps crunchy?
How to make shrimps crunchy? pictures (2 of 3)

How do you make shrimp crunchy? More precisely, how do you make shrimp Chinese-restaurant-crunchy?

I’ve been obsessed with this subject matter for the longest time–a topic that took me a while to research. If you’ve tried dim sum or shrimp dishes in Chinese restaurants, you know exactly what I mean–shrimp so crunchy they give a mouth feel that they “bounce” in your mouth as you sink your teeth into the firm flesh. In Chinese, it’s called 爽脆 (shuangcui).

Great Chinese food is all about texture and mouth feel (口感) of everyday ingredients, the most basic skill that a good Chinese chef should acquire. My uncle in Hong Kong is a huge connoisseur and a fantastic cook; he taught me the secret technique which he learned from a Cantonese top chef in Hong Kong–water. Yes, cold running water to rinse shrimp (up to hours) until the flesh firms up and becomes translucent. I have later confirmed this technique with a few kitchen workers in Chinese restaurants, and yes, it’s true…(learn the secret technique of making shrimp crunchy after the jump)

I tried the cold running water technique at home and it works. However, it’s not ideal for home cooking because too much water is wasted during the treatment process. I resolved to research further for an alternative method best for home cooks.

When I was in Beijing this June, I chanced upon a great Chinese cookbook with the best step-by-step picture guide of making har gow or shrimp dumplings. It reveals that a pH9 alkaline water is the secret behind crunchy shrimp, and a light massage while marinating pretty much does the trick. The PH9 clue intrigues me. I came back and went to my favorite Chinese restaurant in Irvine and investigated further. The chef told me that they don’t use alkaline water, but swear by the process of marinating shrimp with egg white, tapioca starch (菱粉) and baking soda, a process they called “上浆” (shangjiang) or literally “coating with starch.”

I researched further about pH9–which is a scientific measure of the acidity of a solution. Anything that is more than pH7 is alkaline. I found out that tap water–depending on its source, origin, or location–is usually close to pH9, which explains the reason why cold running water is used by Cantonese chefs. Sea water is pH8 and the reason why live/raw shrimps have firm and crunchy flesh. I also learned that baking soda and egg white are both pH8. At that point, everything becomes crystal clear to me.

So, here it is, the technique that you’ve been waiting for–a well-protected “trade secret” used by Chinese and Cantonese chefs to treat their shrimp, which I have adapted and modified for home use. I’ve tested it many times in my kitchen and it never fails me. I made my shrimp and chive dumplings with texture exactly like the ones served at dim sum restaurants. I made a stir-fry shrimp dish and the shrimp bounced in my mouth and “crunched” as I bit into the flesh. This technique works like a miracle!

If you know another technique that works well, please share with me via comments! Otherwise, try my method below and you will be serving jumpy, bouncy, and crunchy shrimp in no time!

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160 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Doreen says:

    I have a question… after marinating the prawns, do I wash the marinate away if I want to steam the prawns?

  2. finind says:

    I would like to know why add tapioca starch to the shrimp?
    If I want to fry the prawn should I wash the prawns again with cold water after taking them out rom the fridge?

  3. finind says:

    Hi 2 more questions

    1. to leave the prawn in baking soda water and set aside for 30 minutes, should it be in the fridge? or room temperature?

    2. simialrly, to marinate overnight, is it to leave the prawn in the fridge or room temperature?

  4. SK Lim says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tip. I tried it and the prawns real good and crunchy. May I know if I do not deshell the prawns would the same method work. If not, could you advise what needs to be done. Aslo, is it necessary to wash away the marinate

  5. Sus says:

    I had this wonderful creamy coconut sauced shrimp. At a local chinese restaurant in Florida. I am addicted it it..It tastes like coconut, I think they use coconut milk. its very smooth, not grainy at all from raw coconut , and maybe they use condensed milk with, cream de coconut or coconut milk it..? ITS NOT fried Shrimp..its a coconut base shrimp.very creamy. And have never had it anywhere else..ay chinese restaurant in USA.
    I would love to have this recipe, if anyone knows of it. Helpppppppppp :-)
    I also would love a Chinese lemon chicken and orange chicken recipe..my other favorite restaurant closed,There’s was the BEST I’ve ever had…seems like they used boneless chicken breasts coated lightly and cooked, then cooked again in a fresh lemon thick sauce…Was Awesome!!!
    Thanks in advance

    KEEPMEPOSTEDOK@AOL.COM

  6. Thanks for this tip. I was precisely hunting for this information as we are going to have a dumpling party tonight and my guest does not eat pork (so we have to make them with shrimp). I usually do not like to make dumplings with shrimp as the texture has always been disappointing. I am going to try soaking them in ice cold water. The last time I made some Lebanese style shrimp I put the peeled shrimp on a bed of ice (which turned into ice water eventually) and the ones that were submerged became transparent. I was wondering why some of them were transparent and some of them were not. Well, you’ve answered my question….so thank you. :)

  7. Sean says:

    I gather it’s not just abt rinsing the prawns in cold water but that it has to be ph 9. Else freezing the prawns would have been enuf to ‘cook’ it.

  8. Hi,

    Usually I just use Sugar too marinate the shrimps.

  9. Boon says:

    I moonlight as a cook in a Chinese Restr for 3 years in my university days 1989 while studying post-grad in corporate finance in Australia. It was a silver service Chinese Restr. I worked under a famous HK chef. All that you said are true. I remembered getting whacked on the back by his ladle if I dont wash thorough enough to rid the soda after taste. I was doing all the cutting, marinations, dressing and curving. He, .. he just dance with the stove heat…he said. Now I am an accomplished cook. Maybe not chef.

  10. Lucy L says:

    Wow, i’m so impressed with this entry, i just had to write in. I love the recipes you have on here, but i am even more impressed with the way you share your techiques and tips, thank you so much! =)

  11. Eva says:

    I don’t have baking soda? Can I use baking powder instead of baking soda? Thanks.

  12. Kevin Leong says:

    Hi:

    Could you please tell me whether your method of using baking soda will make sliced guropa fish crunchy?

    Many thanks

    Kevin

  13. lilian says:

    can i add my marinade such as salt, pepper, sesame oil and a pinch of sugar with the egg white and starch?

  14. Maria says:

    I have always wonder about how the shrimps are so crunchy in chinese dishes…great tips, thanks.

  15. anna says:

    Thanks for your kindness in sharing a very valuable secret sharing. I’m really impressed. I’m gonna try that tomorrow (Monday 8 Nov) than I will get back to you. Hopefully I’m success in making my prawn crunchy. I’ve been searching for this secret for months and following sooo many cooking courses but I never found the right way. Hopefully this time it’s work!

  16. lydia says:

    If I want to boil the prawns should I wash away the batter before boiling?

  17. Cindy Chin says:

    Hi Rasa Malaysia,

    I wanna ask you, does your method work on prawn with shell on?

  18. akyls says:

    can we ask how long does the crispiness of the shrimp last?

  19. leanne says:

    Hello,

    I am excited to try this next weekend. Must I thaw the frozen shrimp first before beginning the soaking etc?
    thanks
    Leanne

  20. Bingo says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I didn’t search for ‘crunchy shrimp’, but instead searched for ‘springy’. Didn’t know the right term to use. Perhaps you can expand on the tags so more people can find this wonderful resource! You are great in the explanations!

  21. My Kitchen says:

    Wanted blog about it and found this post, got everything I wanted to share (I am way too slow). After marinating, the flesh will be soft/tender, a bit of “massage” helps in firming it up and make it bouncier. Same theory as in making fishball/meatball, mixing the paste (in this case prawns) in the same direction. Thanks for your detailed post.

  22. Tran says:

    Thanks very much Rasa – I have finally found the holy grail of prawns. I’ve always wondered how the pros got that crunch – I figured that ice water had something to do with it :)

  23. lee says:

    I soak the cleaned prawns in the container with water and white sugar for few hours in the fridge before cooking. It works out well and very crispy.

  24. Eko Cahyanto says:

    I was so exited when I first found your advise of how to make shrimps crunchy like those in famous Chinese Dim Sum.
    I have begun pratising last two months ago and since then have tried out at least 5-6 times, however unfortunately I haven’t been able to get it just quite right yet.

    I have deveined the shrimps, washed them with running tap water for 5-10 minutes, then added ice cold water + baking soda and then I mixed them and put it in the frige for at least 30 minutes. After that, I washed them also with running tap water.

    Then I started cooking them.
    Well, they got more crunchy than untreated/original shrimps, but haven’t got to the level like those in Dim Sum.

    I never then coat/marinate them with tapioca starch(after washing the shrimps from the baking soda water). Is it a must?

    By the way, the shrimps are ok, I mean they are fresh, I can tell it from the fresh, stiff and slippery shell when I bought them in a traditional morning market.

    Can you give me more advise to how I can make perfect the CRUNCHY SHRIMPS?
    Thank You, Bee.

  25. Pingback:decuisine.net » Blog Archive » Tips to Crunchy Prawns

  26. elilla m. mascunana says:

    hi
    could you please let me know if i can make this crispy shrimps unpeeled.
    waiting for your reply….email elilla.mascunana@gmail.com

    thank you

  27. jay says:

    Do I batter the shrimp after sooking overnight? Or is the tapioca starch and egg white the batter…so I would just take them out and drop them in the fryer? Also, will potato starch work? Thanks!

  28. Brett says:

    Like to let you know you have been doing a wonderful job love your simple and unintrusive recipes. Am a big fan.

    As for the running water method I too have learn about it long ago but find the the running cost too impractical for home use, there is another cheaper way. Which I use for my clay fish, prawns, mantis prawn and lobsters.

    You will need a normal 1ft or 2ft fish tank, a small slow flow submersible electric pump and some coral bits.

    Ph level of water we received varies wildly from country to country and state to state. The part of Thailand where I am in now the ph level is 6.5 now this is slightly acidic.

    Fix the small submersible pump in the tank and fill up the deshelled crustaceans in a bowl now placed it in the tank. Elevate the bowl inside the tank with another bowl(turn upside down) or anything that you find handy just for elevation purpose. For me the bowls base is elevated about 4 inches above the tank’s base.

    Fill the tank with water till about 4 inches and start the pump running. Till desired. If the temperature around your kitchen is hot your might add some ice cubes into the tanks water.

    To confirm water’s ph level it would be very helpful if you have a electronic ph meter. There are 2 methods to raise PH level in the tanks water.

    1st method – By adding salt or baking soda. But salt will spoil the prawns taste and baking soda will turn the water all too cloudy and affects the natural taste. Not too mention it looks weird. So we will stick to method 2.

    Method 2 – Add some coral bits into the tanks water. ( make sure you wash clean the coral bits, no detergents needed just a hot water bath ) The plus side coral bits does its job of raising the ph level and not affecting the prawns taste. Also when all is done the coral bit can be wash-stored and awaits future uses.

    Just a note here ( Am not trying to start a debate as there are much more science involved )- have noticed that in many malaysia’s house holds I have seen people installing water purification/filtration devices to their incoming water source. Now many of these devices are basically RO devices ( RO = Reverse Osmosis ). It may actually bring down the original intended ph level closer to the acidic side. So if your Ph level is too low you might want to add in more coral bits during the crustaceans processing process.

    cheers

  29. Nik Linda says:

    Hi, I love your site and I love your writing, recipes and all. Another great tip from an ever-generous person like you. I tried the chicken marinade in one of your earlier tips, it worked wonderful.

    Good luck and hope a continuous success in your career!

  30. from Sydney says:

    Best receipe ever

  31. Linda says:

    Could I use cornstarch instead of the tapioca?

  32. Lovefood says:

    Thanks for the article. Very nice. Just wanted to add one note – when I make cocktail shrimp, I immediately put it in ice. This process is called “Shocking” (as I learned from Food Network in the US). Thanks for sharing your knowlege.

  33. Linn says:

    I suppose you mean prawns used must be really fresh? What about frozen prawns you bought in supermarkets which you doubt their freshness?

  34. cheryl s. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the recipe for crunchy shrimp.
    There is nothing more sublime than biting down on a piece of shrimp that has a silky, crunchy, perfectly salted feel on the tongue.
    I have the fresh shrimp sitting in my refrigerator right now as well as the rest of the pantry ingredients. As soon as I submit I’m rushing downstairs to start peeling, deveining and marinating! :)
    Glad I’ve found your site.

  35. alexx says:

    Hello there,
    I have a question, can I use corn starch instead of tapioca starch? Please let me know. Regards

  36. alexx says:

    Thank u for the answer:-) regards

  37. Irma says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I finally got a book that has easy to understand recipes that I can make at home.

  38. Uta says:

    Super-Great website! I am loving it! Will return
    again – getting you rss feeds as well, Cheers!

  39. awang says:

    hi do you have a recipe for making crispy, hairy like egg floss. Tried so many recipe but turned out to be bad

    regards

    awang

  40. baby hannah says:

    Thanks for your recipe as I’m being thinking how to make a juicy & bouncy prawn for my Aglio olio pasta for long time ago and I find it exactly what I want from you. Let me try and will get back to you.

  41. Elly says:

    Would corn starch work instead of tapioca starch?

  42. foodie says:

    The secret is SPARKLING WATER! You get the best airy tempura texture. Everyone try this at least once and tell me how great it worked!

  43. Sheri says:

    Why is tapioca starch and egg whites needed since you say “Baking soda is also the secret ingredient Chinese chefs use to make meat tender”. What more does the starch and egg whites do?
    I’m trying to make shrimp/pork meatball. Should I put the shrimp is cold baking soda water whole or after mincing?

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