When I first discovered shrimp chips, I went on a pretty big binge. My local grocery store had little red bags of them that I would devour in frighteningly short amounts of time. They replaced popcorn, potato chips, and other fast finger foods for at least three months. The chips had the right blend of salt, umami, and crunch to keep me satisfied. Plus, they had a different mix of ingredients than what I normally ate.
While I’ve since added pork rinds, potato chips, and a few other finger foods back into my rotation, I still consume quite a lot of prawn crackers. In order to satisfy my own culinary curiosity, I’ve done quite a bit of research on this delectable finger food. Here are some of the more interesting findings.
What Are Prawn Crackers / Shrimp Chips?
Prawn crackers are made with tapioca flour and shrimp (or prawns). There’s a bit of water added to this mixture to form a dough. It’s then steamed and sundried. Shrimp chips are sold both pre-fried (what I buy in bags) or ready to fry yourself. When you buy the DIY-kind, they’re white, squishy, and semi-transparent. When you buy the pre-fried kind, they’re crispy and fluffy (not unlike Funyuns).
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What’s The Difference Between Shrimps and Prawns?
I’ve used the terms “shrimp” and “prawns” a lot so far, and I’m going to use them a lot more on the rest of the page. Before we get too far in, let’s establish what each of these words means.
Scientifically, there’s no difference between shrimp and prawns. “Prawn” is a term that usually refers to shrimp, but doesn’t refer to a particular kind, size, or style of shrimp. In the UK, “prawn” is used instead of shrimp almost all of the time. In the US, “prawn” tends to refer to larger, freshwater shrimp, but there’s no clear distinction regarding either of these criteria.
There are a bunch of different types of shrimp and they taste somewhat different. If you prefer the taste of what your area calls “prawns,” use those to make your crackers. If you prefer the taste of shrimp, use those instead. Otherwise, get whatever’s cheaper or easier to clean.
As far as pre-packaged chips go, you’re more likely to notice a difference between brands instead of packages labeled “shrimp” vs “prawn.”
The shrimp chips that I buy aren’t labeled very well for English-speaking markets, anyway, so the choice of “shrimp” vs “prawn” is probably left up to a translator who chooses whichever word comes to mind first.
The final verdict?
Shrimp and prawns are basically the same. If you happen to prefer a particular type of shrimp or brand of crackers, that’s great! Otherwise, treat shrimp and prawn chips identically.
Can I Make My Own Prawn Crackers / Shrimp Chips At Home?
Yes, you can! It’s incredibly easy to assemble a batch of homemade shrimp crackers. You’ll need a food processor (or a blender), tapioca flour, shrimp (or prawns), and some oil to fry them in. if you’d like, you can microwave them instead of frying them (more on this later).
Shrimp Chips Ingredients:
- 1 lb shrimp or prawns, peeled, deveined, and totally ready to eat
- 1 lb tapioca flour
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 tsp baking powder (this helps the crackers puff up. You can leave it out if you want less puffy crackers)
- 1 tsp msg (again, optional. You can find MSG in most Asian markets. It really helps bring out the umami flavor of dishes and is totally safe to eat)
- any other spices you’d like to add
- water (to adjust the consistency of the dough)
- frying oil
Shrimp Chips Instructions:
1. Puree your shrimp (or prawns) in a food processor. A blender may work in a pinch, but you’ll probably need to add some liquid, which may affect your dough.
2. Add the tapioca flour to your food processor and mix until you get a thick, doughy mixture.
3. If your dough is too thick, add a bit of water and mix until you get a stiff dough. If it’s too thin, add more tapioca flour.
4. Mix in salt, msg, and any other seasonings you decide to use. Again, these are all optional. I personally prefer to use MSG directly instead of adding fish sauce or other high-umami seasonings, but you can use fish or oyster sauce to achieve a similar effect.
5. Take the dough out and knead it until it’s smooth.
6. Form the kneaded dough into about two sausage-like rolls.
7. Steam the dough for between 30 minutes and an hour. If you’re worried about them falling through your steamer (or you want easier cleanup), put a bit of foil between the dough and your steamer.
8. Remove the dough from the steamer and let it cool. Some traditional recipes have you wait for a full two hours before you proceed, but I’ve never found that to be necessary. A few minutes should be fine. The dough should be rubbery with a slightly pink center.
9. Slice the rolls into very thin chips. The thinner the better. You can use a food processor, a vegetable peeler, or just a sharp knife to do this.
10. Arrange the chips on a cookie sheet and dry them. Traditionally, this is done in the sun. The best way to do it these days is with a dehydrator or convection oven. If you have one of these tools, you’ll be able to dry your prawn chips out in a couple hours. If you don’t, you’ll have to use a big fan or a regular oven set to warm. Both of these methods take about 12 hours to fully dry the chips out. I’m a fan of the fan method (get it?) because I think it’s a lot safer — I just put my cookie sheet full of chips in front of a box fan and ignore it for about a day.
11. Your chips will now keep basically forever, but you’re not done making them yet. If you want to store them, simply place them in an airtight container for however long you want, up to several months. When you’re ready to eat them, proceed to the next step.
12. You can either fry your chips or microwave them. To fry, submerge in frying oil at 375 F. The chips should sink down, puff up, then float to the surface. Once they’ve puffed up, remove immediately and let cool on a wire rack.
13. To microwave, simply arrange a small number of chips (about 4) on a microwaveable plate and zap until the chips have puffed up. Overcooking will happen quite fast and will change the flavor and color of your chips.
Microwaved prawn chips have a different flavor profile overall, so you may want to season your chips differently or even brush them with oil (or butter) before you nuke them.
How Do I Prepare The Transparent Prawn Chips I Bought At The Store?
If you didn’t get pre-fried prawn chips, you’ll need to either fry or microwave at home. Refer to step 10 and 11 of the above instructions. Microwaving only takes a few seconds and has virtually zero prep or cleanup, so you may want to start there if you’re only cooking a few chips.
Are Chinese Soup Crackers The Same As Prawn Chips?
Many people eat prawn chips with soup , but there are a few other varieties of Chinese soup crackers. Some are made with tapioca flour, however, and you can definitely buy pre-dried but not fried versions of these chips at the Asian market (just like you can with shrimp crackers). In order to prepare these at home, microwave or fry them the same way you would shrimp crackers.
A Longer Note About Umami / MSG
In 1968, an American medical journal published a letter that described a malady called “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” The letter attributed a number of mild, unpleasant side effects to eating at Northern Chinese-style Chinese American restaurants and posited that a number of ingredients could be to blame, including MSG, wine, and regular table salt. This started a craze of avoiding MSG at all costs.
There is no modern scientific evidence that backs up any claim regarding MSG’s so-called negative effects. It has passed double-blind scientific studies with flying colors, including studies where participants eat far more MSG that you’d ever encounter in a normal dish.
This makes a lot of sense — glutamates occur naturally in a huge number of foods and can be readily found in seaweed, soy sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, aged cheeses, and bone broths. In other words, anything with a savory flavor.
Much of the rich, savory flavor that you get when you eat prawn crackers (or shrimp chips) is due to the shrimp itself. By including roughly equal weights of flour and meat, you get a pretty hearty, savory chip. In order to really take it up a notch, however, you can add additional glutamates. You can do this by adding a bit of oyster sauce or fish sauce if you like.
The reason you use these two sauces is that they’re very high in MSG. I find that it’s a bit simpler (and less smelly) to add a few MSG crystals directly to my dough.
Shrimp Chips – The Ultimate Umami Snack
Made with taopica flour and ground shrimp (or prawns), shrimp crackers are a great way to satisfy a sudden crave for something savory while you chill out and watch Netflix. You can pick them up at the store, buy them yourself, or even get par-cooked shrimp chips that you can fry yourself so you can combine convenience and freshness. These delicious treats are one of my favorite snacks due to their incredibly unique taste.