Emily here. I grew up in New York City, and every once in a great while on a Sunday afternoon, I would take the subway to Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown to get Dim Sum with friends or family. It was always packed, loud, chaotic and delicious. Men would roll carts heaped with small plastic plates, their color signaling the cost of the Dim Sum on offer. And if you wanted it, you better grab it before someone else beat you to it. There’s no crying at Dim Sum! And those carts moved fast, so it was best to grab first and ask questions later (this is now my philosophy in life. Don’t ask how it’s going).
Luckily just about everything was amazing, and this pin-the-tail on the dim sum is how I branched out from getting mostly dumplings and rice rolls, to more unfamiliar dishes like chicken feet, turnip cakes and fried shrimp balls. And then there was shrimp toast — little triangles of bread coated with seasoned shrimp paste and sesame seeds and fried until perfectly crispy. It wasn’t always on the menu, so when you found it, it felt like an extra-special treat.
Shrimp toast is thought to have originated in southern China, but it’s become a staple in both Hong Kong cuisine and in American-Chinese restaurants. It’s kind of an old fashioned dish, but it deserves a renaissance because when it’s made well, it’s really tasty. So let’s talk about making it well.
True to its retro roots, good white sandwich bread is best for shrimp toast. Potato bread would also work well. You want something with a tight crumb, without a lot of holes for the filling to fall through. We love sourdough, but it won’t work here. It’s important that the bread is light enough to crisp up quickly and not soak up a lot of oil. If you like a neat and tidy edge, or you don’t like crusts, you can trim them off. (Do this after you cover and chill the toast.) We prefer them rustic and homemade looking.
Plus the crust gives you a little non-shrimpy handle for picking them up.
the shrimp layer
Making shrimp paste (or prawn paste as it’s called in many parts of the world) is simple. You can do it by hand if you have a sharp knife and some patience (of course a food processor speeds things up). Since you’ll chop everything fine, you can use any size shrimp you like. Get whatever looks freshest. We wrote a guide to buying shrimp if you’re unsure.) The rest is just seasoning.
We like the combination of ginger and garlic, of course. The key is to mince them finely or use one of our favorite kitchen tools, a microplane. Even though they’re going in the food processor, biting down on a big chunk of garlic would overwhelm the flavor of the shrimp. Finely chopped scallion and cilantro add a light oniony bite and freshness (if you’re a cilantro hater, you could use parsley or just omit it). Soy sauce and sesame oil for seasoning and cornstarch and egg white for binding. So chuck everything in the food processor and pulse it to combine the mixture and get the shrimp to a moderately fine grind. We like to keep a little texture so a few larger bits of shrimp is fine. (Note: you can make the shrimp mixture up to a day ahead, kept refrigerated in an airtight container.)
Lay out four slices of the bread, and spread a quarter of the shrimp mixture over each slice, edge to edge. At this point I like to chill the toasts in the freezer for about 10 minutes or so. It results in cleaner cuts and makes handling the pieces easier. It’s not strictly necessary, so if you’re in a rush, go ahead and skip this step. While the toasts are chilling, make the dipping sauce and get ready for frying.
Frying the toasts
You’ll find that most restaurants deep-fry their shrimp toasts, but we get great results from pan frying, which is easier and less messy. Add about an 1/8-inch of oil to a large (10 to 12-inch skillet) — essentially, slug in enough oil to cover the entire base of the pan, and then add about the same again — and set the heat to medium high. If you want to trim the crust off, now’s the time to do it. If you want a sesame seed crust, sprinkle the seeds over the shrimp layer and gently press them down with your fingers so they stick. We like to coat half the toasts with seeds and leave the other half bare, so the shrimp layer is visible.
Cut the toasts into quarters on the diagonal, making 4 triangles out of each slice. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add as many triangles as will fit without crowding the pan, shrimp-side down. Let that side cook until the shrimp layer is golden and cooked through, about 2 to 4 minutes. Flip and let the other side turn brown and crisp, about a minute. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate and continue cooking the rest of the shrimp toasts.
Serve them hot, sprinkled with a bit of extra scallion and with the dipping sauce on the side. We also like a dipping bowl of sweet chili sauce, and hot sauce, for those that like extra spice.
You can refrigerate the cooked shrimp toasts for up to a day or keep them frozen for about 3 weeks. Store the cooked but cooled toasts in an airtight container.
To serve, heat oven to 300ºF. Arrange shrimp toast in single layer on wire rack over a rimmed baking tray. Bake until heated through, about 5 to 7 minutes for refrigerated, 7 to 10 minutes for frozen.
Crispy Shrimp Toast with Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce
For the Dipping Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar or use rice vinegar
- 1 to 3 teaspoons Sambal Oelek or your favorite hot sauce
For the Shrimp Toast:
- 1/2 pound shrimp any size, peeled and deveined
- 1 large egg white
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 scallions white and green parts, finely chopped, plus more for serving
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 medium clove garlic grated or minced
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 4 slices white sandwich bread crusts removed, if desired
- 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
- Peanut vegetable, or canola oil for frying
- To make the dipping sauce, stir together all the ingredients and set aside.
- To make the Shrimp Toast, add the shrimp, egg white, soy sauce, scallions, cilantro, cornstarch, sesame oil, garlic and ginger into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse on and off until mix is mostly smooth, though a few small chunks of shrimp is fine.
- Divide the mixture among 4 slices of sandwich bread, spreading it out evenly all the way to the edges. Sprinkle each slice generously with sesame seeds. While you heat the oil, place the toasts in the freezer (colder toasts make cleaner cuts and easier handling).
- In a large nonstick or cast iron skillet, heat ⅛ inch of oil on medium-high until shimmering. When ready, remove toasts from the freezer and cut each slice into quarters on a diagonal to create little triangles. Fry the triangles, in batches if necessary, shrimp-side down first, until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn them over and fry the other side until bread is golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately or see below on how to make in advance and reheat.