Although Chinese and Western cuisine have many things in common, there are also significant differences which distinguish them. One of the differences is their perspective on the treatment of meat before cooking. Chinese cuisine always prepares meat first in a wet starch, cooking wine and salt for before cooking. Western cuisine mostly adds salt at the end and does not prepare the meat using water before cooking.
Chinese cookery emphasizes the flavoring of the ingredients at the preparation time so that the flavors are complete upon serving, whereas Western food often achieves its flavor and seasoning within the sauce. This difference is clearly demonstrated when cooking shrimp.
Western cuisine generally calls for pan frying or barbecuing shrimp, and if the shrimp is wet, this will affect the cooking. So, many Western kitchens don’t prepare shrimp using water. Chinese food is completely different, as I will show you today with my Glass Shrimp Balls recipe.
Traditional practice requires the shrimp to be washed under running water for one hour and add a very small amount (a few milliliters only) of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) to whiten the flesh.
The sodium hydroxide softens the hard fibers in the shrimp making the meat more compact and flexible. You will also need to use a lot of salt afterwards to absorb and extract the excess water.
In recent years, with increased awareness of nutrition and health, some traditional cooking methods have been abandoned. Although the traditional technique of preparing shrimp as described above improved the appearance of shrimp for cooking, it also caused protein loss and changed its flavor.
Today I will be showing you a healthier and more natural way without using sodium hydroxide and without having to wash the shrimp under water for an hour. The shrimp are then dried with paper towel resulting in a nicely curled, white and glassy-looking shrimp.
I have used tiger prawns in this recipe. The one pictured weighs between 70-75 grams after thawing, but any shrimp weighing 50-75 grams will work fine.
Most shrimp are available frozen or thawed, but not all freezing methods are the same, affecting freshness and ultimately flavor. The best shrimp to buy are those frozen on the boat immediately after being caught; the packaging will be marked “boat frozen.” The quality and freshness of the shrimp are more important in this dish because the cooking process is relatively simple with little other flavoring.
- 3 Tiger Prawns
- Pickling Juice
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of sugar
- 50 ml water
- Glassy Coating
- 1teaspoon starch
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 pinch each of salt and white pepper
- 400 ml rapeseed oil
- 2 teaspoons rapeseed oil (extra)
- 10 g green onion (white part only)
- 5 ml of Shaoxing wine
- 1 g (1 pinch) starch
- 20 ml water
How to Make Glass Shrimp Balls
Step 1: Prepare the Shrimps(The way to deal with shrimp)
The best way to thaw shrimp is in a sealed box or container in the refrigerator for 24 hours to thaw slowly. Do not put the shrimp in the microwave oven to thaw as it will ruin the shrimp.
If time is short, you can wash the shrimp under running water to remove ice from the surface, and then drain in a colander at room temperature (preferably not higher than 20 degrees Celsius) to thaw.
First, remove the shrimp head by placing your knife where its head joins the body and cut off the head. Done this way, a part of the shrimp body will depart with the shrimp’s head which seems a waste, but there would be more waste if you just pulled off the shrimp’s head. Cutting is neater and more economical.
The shrimp body has a cavity holding its digestive tract and some gray matter (pictured in the figure below). Liver from mammals can be tasty and good for you, but not so with shrimp! You need to remove both the digestive tract and any gray matter.
Strip the shrimp shells off with your hands, but don’t throw them away. Gather them up with the shrimp heads and gray matter and make a tasty shrimp oil by frying them in a small pan of oil for 20 minutes and straining.
Now to the most difficult step: removing the membrane wrapped around the shrimp. Removing the membrane improves the shrimp’s appearance because the membrane will turn red after heating.
The expert approach is to hold the shrimp down on the chopping board and slip the knife under the membrane. Gently pull the membrane off with the knife, moving the shrimp around until the knife has lifted the whole membrane.
It sounds easy, but even after years of training, many professional chefs still find this procedure challenging. At home, you will need a good small knife, but if you don’t feel confident, feel free to skip this step.
The next step is to remove the shrimp’s digestive tract. With a sharp knife cut along the shrimp’s back to expose the cavity so that you can easily separate the digestive tract. Keep any gray matter surrounding the intestines for making shrimp oil.
Not all shrimp intestines are obvious, and it seems some shrimp want to enter the model industry, by eating very little, making their intestines almost transparent.
Next, you need to cut off the shrimp’s tail, or the shrimp will not curl into a perfect ball.
When you’ve removed the tail, you will notice two muscles on the back of the shrimp. Carefully remove these with a knife.
Now to the secret to making the shrimp curl! With the knife, gently cut open the back seam of the shrimp starting at the front and moving towards the tail.
Cut deeply, being careful not to cut all the way through so that the whole back of the shrimp can be opened out. When cooked, the shrimp contracts and rolls into a beautiful shrimp ball. For small shrimps less than 30 grams, one cut down the center is fine, but if the shrimp is large, you will need to make two extra cuts along either side of the inside of the intestine cavity to enable the shrimp to curl up.
Be very careful when making these cuts as the blade is only a few millimeters away from your fingers!
Step 2: Pickle the Shrimps
Place three shrimp balls in a large bowl with add ½ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of sugar and 50 ml of water, and mix with your hands. Stand for five minutes.
After 5 minutes remove the shrimp and rinse with water. Pat dry with paper towels.
To a clean bowl add one teaspoon of starch, two teaspoons of water, and a pinch each of salt and white pepper (1 teaspoon = 5 ml). Stir to combine and coat the three shrimps in the paste. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Step 3: Cook the Shrimps
Take a small pot and add 400 ml of rapeseed oil, and heat to 160 degrees Celsius.
Put the salted shrimp into the hot oil.
As soon as the shrimp curls into a ball, fish it out and drain on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.
Take a small flat non-stick pan, preheat for one minute and pour in two teaspoons of rapeseed oil and 10 grams of the white part only of green onions. Stir fry until the fragrance is released and then pour in 5 ml of Shaoxing wine and millet juice (1 g starch +20 ml of water), stirring constantly.
When the liquid changes from milky white to transparent, add the fried shrimp balls and quickly stir fry to coat shrimp balls in a layer of transparent glassy juice. Serve immediately.
Although it is a typical Chinese meal, it is best to eat Glass Shrimp Balls Western-style with a knife and fork so that you can cut them into small pieces. This way, you can eat them slowly, savoring every mouthful of deliciousness!