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How to make shrimp crunchy?

How to make shrimps crunchy?
How to make shrimps crunchy? pictures (1 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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169 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

    • Henk


      What happens if we do not marinade the prawns + white egg + cornflour/tapioca overnight ?
      WHy do we have to do the velveting overnight instead of cooking it straight away or marinade only af ew hours and cook them

  1. Sounds interesting and will try. Have you tried it with other protein? Chicken? Beef?

    The method a lot of cooks I know (and myself) use is to use cornstarch as the “flouring” agent right before cooking, especially if stir-frying or frying in general. Have only done it with chicken/beef/pork. Not sure how shrimp would work. But cornstarch itself for getting crispiness as well as barely any coating works wonders. Have you tried just using cornstarch? Season/marinade your shrimp as desired, dust w/cornstarch and add to a hot skillet or oil. Let me know how this works for you. Will try your way w/ shrimp & other proteins.

    As a baker I do see how the egg whites work. I use egg whites when toasting/roasting/candying nuts because not only does it help any seasonings stick, it also make them extra crunchy.

    • Yes, baking soda works for meat, too. You can check out my cashew chicken recipe for reference:

      Corn starch doesn’t make shrimps crunchy, it just seal the outer layer to make it smoother. Corn starch works on meat to make it tender but not on shrimp. And yes, corn starch is great for frying.

      Well, try this, it works for me. And you can get the mouth feel I was talking about, the shrimp basically “crunch” and “bounce” in your mouth when you bite into it. It’s awesome!

  2. Fascinating, B. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never used baking soda before in this application, and I’ve usually used cornstarch. I can’t wait to try this!

  3. Cindy

    In the 80s when I was an expat’s wife in Singapore, I took some dim-som classes. IF I remembered correctly all one has to do is marinate the shrimps with a tea-spoon of sugar for about 10 min. Rinse, add seasoning and cook. I actually prefer shrimps in their ‘normal’ form therefore have not used this method since then. Hope it is good.

  4. Cindy

    by the way, all these soaking and rinsing, would it not remove the natural taste from the shrimps?? Just curious. My mother would only allow us to wash shrimps ONCE!

    • Well, no it didn’t since you soak in the baking soda for only 30 minutes. In Chinese restaurant, they would rinse the shrimps up to 2 hours, and hence all the flavors are gone and they have to use seasonings to put back the flavor. This is what my uncle told me. ;)

  5. kl_changs

    Aha! The secret of prawns’ magic crunch. Can’t wait to try it. Hope that it works with frozen prawns. I miss fresh prawns which are abundant in Malaysia’s wet markets.

    Thanks Bee!

  6. Correct. All shrimps are frozen in the United States unless you buy the fresh and live shrimps in Asian super-markets. This technique would firm up the flesh. Let me know if it works out for you. :)

  7. Ah…great tips! You know, I actually did this process by accident i.e. rinsing the frozen prawns in cold water a good few times until the water runs clear and the prawns are clean looking as I don’t like the particular prawn stench has (irony) thought I like prawns.
    I used the prawns in wontons a lot of times and they tasted bouncy without having to use baking soda and egg whites. However, this entry really opens up my eye and I will definitely try it in my next wonton batch.

  8. pushpa soh

    I love prawns and all my stirfries will have lots of prawn. Now I will get crunchy prawns instead of lifeless one. Thanks for sharing a very valuable secret. I appreciate your kindness in sharing.

  9. ping

    Hi there
    I wonder if soaking/rinsing the shrimp in water strips them of their natural flavours. I ask because I have found these soaked/rinsed specimens to be utterly devoid of flavour compared to their fresh/live compatriots. Almost tasteless/plain like water, I nicknamed them “water prawns”. I have learnt to recognise these specimens by their slight translucent nature even when cooked and of course, their very crunchy texture.

    In my book, I would sacrifice a little texture in return for some flavour.

  10. I’m curious about how the chemistry behind this works.

    I’ve found that a short soak in a saltwater solution gets a pretty good texture. I’ll have to give this one a go to compare.

  11. Thanks for the tips! I defnitely will put these tips to the test as I always wanted my shrimps to taste just like the ones in restaurants. Thought it was the freshness of the seafood and maybe the very very hot wok they use.

    Btw, I’m new on the blogasphere with my own blog – – where me & my partner make cookies, cakes, hors d’oeuvres to order. Hope you will enjoy reading it.

  12. Apicio

    Have been checking your blog for some time now. There was a drawn out discussion of culinary use of chemicals in e-gullet a few years ago. Substances that we do not ordinarily associate with food because of extreme toxicity. One of these is borax (sodium borate) that is used to crunchify shrimps and prawns. There is a severe interdict on its use apparently but given the capricious enforcement of regulations in China, I have become wary of suspiciously crunchy decapods.

    • Apicio – you are absolutely right. When I was doing research, I found out that BORAX is exactly PH9 and immediately thought that some Chinese restaurants must be using it. I try to make my method as “natural” as possible, and that’s why it involves soaking it in baking soda water and then rinse it thoroughly with cold running water, and then coat it with egg white and tapioca starch. Thanks for sharing the discussion on e-Gullet.

      • Apicio – your mention of borax also clears up a question that I always have. Some peeled frozen shrimps are crunchy and bouncy right out of the box, with the body so slippery and almost translucent looking, but the shrimps have pretty much lost all the natural taste. I suspect those shrimps are chemically treated with borax, because borax is precisely the ingredient used in washing detergent. Yikes!

  13. Pinenuts

    Hi Bee,

    Thank you for sharing your crunchy prawns secret with us. I, too, have heard of the running water technique some years ago but coming from Melbourne, Australia, with the continual water shortage, I’ll probably get arrested for wasting it that way. Your alternative method sounded interesting and I shall most certainly give it a try. By the way, care to touch on the secrets for smooth and tender beef, commonly found in Chinese dishes?

    Keep up the good work. You are doing great !!

    By the way, keep up the good work.

    • Pinenuts – agreed. There is one thing about making our ingredients great, but wasting water is not the mean to get to it. Do try my method and let me know how it goes. :)

  14. Here in Australia we have two different products – bicarb soda and baking powder. So I am wondering which one to use? I presume the former? Thanks for the tip.

  15. I learned through a co-worker how to make my shrimp crunchy and this simple technique truly works as I’ve tried it so many times and I just loved it. First, of course, the shrimp must be fresh and washed. Then, it must be dry. With or without the shell, using clean paper towels, pat dry all the shrimp making sure you have squeezed out all the water. I’d line them up in a platter and refrigerate uncovered for about an hour to make it even more dry. Then cook it on high heat with a little bit of cooking oil. Water in the shrimp is what makes it soggy.

  16. Ah! The secret have been waiting for :) Thanks for sharing! This is always what I want to achieve with my shrimps…hooray!

    If I can’t find tapioca starch is there any substitution?

  17. Allan

    Won’t the sodium bicarb impart its flavor on the shrimp? I really hate the flavor of baking soda – the reason why I never liked scones. Marinating shrimps in baking soda might give it some “baking soda flavor” might it not?

  18. CT

    Rasa Malaysia, this is a great post. Thanks for the tips. I will try to impress my guests with crunchy prawn in har gow next. Great

  19. Congrats Rasa Malaysia on both achievements with Saveur & Twitter!!! It’s about time!! :D
    Great tips about the crunchy shrimp…I’ve always thought they added some sort of preservatives. So good to know it’s all natural.

  20. Lee

    Hi, what great photos and ideas, thank you. I am interested in the name of the Chinese cookbook you found, could you please share the name of it? THANKS!!

    • Lee – I actually left that cookbook back in Penang, Malaysia and don’t have it with it. It’s just a very common Chinese cookbook but it is the first time I read about the PH9 tip!

  21. I feel almost guilty to know about this secret Bee! You should call it the no-limp-shrimp secret. This is really cool, i didn’t know about this technique but i’m gonna give it a go as soon as possible.

    And yes! Rasa Malaysia kicks ass! :)

  22. lee

    I have an filtered ionizer . One source of the water is acidic and one is alkaline. The alkaline water is for drinking and the ph is more than 9. When I use the PH tester to test, the colour is deep blue to purple. SinSince my water is already alkaline, do I still have to add baking soda in the water when I soak the prawn ?

    • Hi Lee – I am not sure. Why don’t you try it out and let me know which method works best for you. You can split your shrimps into two batches and try out side-by-side. I am curious to know, too. :)

  23. ash

    I’ve been an avid reader of ur site. Hubby’s malaysian so ur recipes are so useful. :) And I just tried this crunchy prawns mtd yesterday to make kung po shrimps. It works and I’m so happy. Tks so much for sharing. :)

  24. I am never good with prawns, I always encountered the translucent prawn in western countries and I thought it’s either from different breed or it’s from the pond. Haha ! Thank you for opening my eyes.

    Can this method be used for cooking Assam Prawns ?

  25. Simon

    When I was taught cooking from a chinese chef from Shanghai he also told me that baking soda can also cause crispyness when added to a batter.

    Hence I did a lil research and discovered that baking soda can differ in different countries. In my country I had to switch to Natron bicarbonate which is sort of the same as bakind soda. But it doesnt give thise bad after taste. I hink the natron is refered to “Bicarbonate of soda” or something. At least baking powder and soda had a bigger difference than people think.

    But this technique is definitely interesting and I will definitely give it a try.

  26. janice

    Thank you for this invaluable secret, I tried it for our dinner tonight (I made stir fried shrimp with asparagus) and it was bouncy & had that crunch we always get from big chinese restaurants!!!

  27. Adelina

    I TOTALLY agree with you on the shrimp texture when it comes to “great Chinese foods”!!! It does make the dish tastes soooooooo much better! A local chinese restaurant in california made the most delicious and wonderful wonton which I’ve never failed to eat there whenever I have the chance to visit California. The texture of the shrimp of the wonton is incredibly crunchy, it was amazing! I could devour a dozen of those wontown in one sitting! So trust me, when I saw this post, I was beyond thrill! I HAVE to try your recipe!

    Thanks!!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE your web site!

  28. wunami

    When I first read PH9, I thought you were referring to some unusual compound. I would totally have recognized it immediately if you had used the much more common convention of using a lower case P. As in, pH 9 or pH 7.

  29. Camila

    I wonder why do you put tapioca starch to it, cause I just read it is acid :/ I’m from Brazil and I can find two kinds of tapioca starch here: polvilho doce and polvilho azedo. The azedo one is more acid than the other, but they are both acids. I’m confused now :(

  30. lyn

    The term for this method is called “velveting”. I’ve always gently rubbed my shelled prawns with cornflour then (as I also live in Australia where we have to watch our water consumption) I rinse my prawns in water in a bowl until clear. It always works for me!

  31. Yvonne

    What should I do if I want to make scrimp salad? I want to boil them instead of frying. After I marinate them. If I want them boil, Wouldn’t the marinate come out?

  32. ken

    Rasa Malaysia replied:
    Well, no it didn’t since you soak in the baking soda for only 30 minutes. In Chinese restaurant, they would rinse the shrimps up to 2 hours, and hence all the flavors are gone and they have to use seasonings to put back the flavor. This is what my uncle told me. ;)
    Thanks for this tip to make the shrimp crunchy. What type of seasonings make the shrimp more Shrimpy? Seems like restaunt shrimp has something extra to give it a very pronounced shrimpy or ocean taste. Thanks again,Bookmarking site

  33. Jean

    Do you, by chance, have the Salt and Pepper Shrimp recipe (Cantonese style)? I’ve tried so many techniques just to get the right texture/crispiness of the batter and shrimp. What I’m after is the light crispy coating that these restaurants use to batter the shrimp. I’ve even tried tempura batter flour but does not come out right.

    Btw, thanks for the tip, I will definitely try this technique out..

      • jean

        i gave this recipe a go last night. i did have to replace the tapioca starch for cornstarch so not sure if shrimps were supposed to turn out like it did last night. i plan to buy more shrimps and this time will grab some tapioca starch.

        thank you again rasa! :)

  34. finind

    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?

  35. finind

    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?

  36. SK Lim

    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

  37. Sus

    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 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


  38. 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. :)

  39. Sean

    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.

  40. Boon

    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.

  41. Lucy L

    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! =)

  42. Kevin Leong


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

    Many thanks


  43. anna

    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!

  44. leanne


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

  45. Bingo

    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!

  46. My Kitchen

    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.

  47. Tran

    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 :)

  48. lee

    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.

  49. Eko Cahyanto

    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.

  50. jay

    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!

  51. Brett

    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.


  52. Nik Linda

    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!

  53. Lovefood

    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.

  54. Linn

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

  55. cheryl s.

    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.

  56. awang

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



  57. baby hannah

    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.

  58. foodie

    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!

  59. 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?

  60. Thank you for this, cannot wait to try it.
    I think I have quite literally fallen in love with your website and recipes. HAppy tummy = happy heart. ahhhh.

  61. Jane Michelle

    Dear Rasa,
    Thank you so much for all the secret you’ve shared with us. May I ask you the name of the Chinese cookbook for dim sum ? And could you please suggest me any bi-lingual book with english translation about dimsum . Thanks so much ;)

  62. Felix

    Thanks for the post! Could you tell me the name of the Chinese book you bought in Beijing?

    I have recently embarked on a career as a dim sum chef and am trying to learn as much as possible, thanks!

  63. TFJ

    What if I just soak it in cold baking soda water massage…and not marinade it in egg white and starch? Will it still be crunchy?

  64. Lim

    Thanks for sharing your interesting topic…
    Now I know why my late father used to remind my late mum to marinate the fresh prawns with cornstartch & egg white before cooking them. I remember, my late granny used to marinate the fresh prawns with “pang sah” for few hours then wash off with clean water to make the prawns crunchy….

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