Friday, February 1, 2008

Kwan Aunty's Prawn Crackers

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(These were sliced a bit too thick for my liking)

I'm aware that there's only one prawn cracker recipe (repeated in various websites) out there in cyberspace. Here comes the Best Prawn Crackers recipe.

Kwan Aunty was from Sandakan, where the best seafood in Sabah can be had. After eating Kwan Aunty's prawn crackers, I never ate the popular Brunei prawn crackers with the red edge again. In fact, I just don't eat prawn crackers unless they are home-made. Why? Because I know what goes into them and I can imagine that if made on a commercial basis, a lot of unnecessary stuff (color, excessive amount of msg to make up for the lack of prawns, the pregnant fly that flew in...) is added to stretch the quantity since prawns aren't cheap. Home-made crackers just taste much much better but I think most people are so used to the commercial type (it's almost impossible to buy real home-made crackers) they have grown up accustomed to them.

Kwan Aunty's prawn crackers are made on a 1:1 ratio of prawns to tapioca flour and were the best I've ever tasted. Perfecto. Be warned. Prawn crackers are addictive. Once you start on them, you won't stop until it's all gone. Who else makes them like that these days? Me of course, her student, although I confess here I am still far from making very good crackers because I only make them once every few years. And now, because it's traditional to serve and eat prawn crackers during CNY, and because Kwan Aunty, who's no longer here, was kind enough to pass on her recipe for free, so should I pass it to you. Free too.

You (at least I do) need a lot of practice to get your prawn crackers right. You want crackers that puff well (the quality of tapioca flour used, whether the crackers are well-dried, oil is too hot, if cracker is sliced too thick all affect the crackers) and not have hard bits here and there (thickness uneven, not thoroughly dried and other reasons I don't know of). Yes, its practice, practice, practice.

You can stretch the following recipe by adding egg whites or water so the dough can take in more tapioca flour but really for home consumption, I don't believe in scrimping. My friend X ingeniously adds baking powder to the recipe and that makes the crackers puff 3 to 4 times the original size but I find the texture becomes coarser, with more bubbles that cut and make my tongue raw (Wey describes it as "Aunty X's crackers are like those I buy in school, they stick onto my tongue."). I also found the crackers to be oily on the surface, maybe because all that puffing makes the surface thinner and more pervious to the oil. Do not omit the msg. Like all savory snacks, msg will perk the taste up. Just be prepared to drink more water and maybe loose more hair (it's funny how the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome affects different races differently).

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Before steaming the prawn crackers dough.
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After steaming, the color of the dough will deepen.

Different types of prawns will give different shades of color, some deeper and some lighter. Farmed prawns (what the fishmongers call 'white prawns' and those that you eat in seafood restaurants) usually will give a darker color but I'd advise not to feed your family with that.

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Leaving the sliced crackers to dry in the sun.

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After drying, crackers will curl and color will deepen. Store in an airtight jar or plastic bag. Can be stored for months if dried well.

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Kwan Aunty's Prawn Crackers
600g small prawns (flesh only & de-veined)
600g tapioca starch/flour*
1 heaped t salt
1 t white ground pepper
1/2 level t (or reduce slightly) msg
banana leaves to line steamer

*update 16/1/12: my dough was sticky this year and I didn't want to run out for just a bit of flour so I used potato starch--that's how daring I am! The prawn crackers turned out perfect, lighter and 'looser' in texture, hallejulah! I think I must've added about 100 gm of potato starch to 900gm tapioca/cassava flour and equal amount of minced prawns.

1. The prawns needn't be drained dry. Just wash and put into a machine to mince. Mince the prawns in the machine until fine.

2. Put the prawn mince into your cake mixer, add all the other ingredients and mix using the dough hook for 8 minutes or so. If mixture doesn't come together, add 1/2 T of water. If too soft, add a little bit more tapioca flour.

3. Taste the raw dough. If it's bland, add more seasoning. Remember that after frying, the crackers will taste even less salty. Now put the dough on a clean surface and knead with your hands until dough is very smooth (say 10 minutes) and when you press it with your fingers, it feels like pressing your arm (provided your arm isn't more than 60 years old). Soft yet firm. If dough is hard, wet your hands and knead again. If your dough is too hard/dry, the crackers will have cracks after drying in the sun and they'll taste very dry after frying.

4. Shape dough into two long rolls, pressing and slapping both ends to compact the rolls so there aren't any air bubbles. Lay the rolls on the banana leaf (NO need to oil/grease) which is laid over your steamer in which the water should be boiling. If you can't find banana leaf, just use foil but it won't give that wonderful aroma as it cooks.

5. Steam at medium high (too high and dough will crack) heat for 1 hour 15 minutes or 1 hour if rolls are thinner.Make sure there is a vent in your steamer lid (a bamboo steamer & lid is best) so that the steam does not rise and fall onto the rolls, making the surface bubbled and wet.

6. When rolls are cool, wrap them in tea towels or foil and leave in fridge to firm up. I leave them overnight. The next morning, take rolls out and leave them out 1/2 hour to come to room temperature. Now we come to the part that's hardest for me. Using a mandoline slicer (I don't handle the mandoline well so I take the longer way and slice the rolls with a very sharp knife), cut into thin slices (too thick and they won't puff so well) and lay them on metal sheets/trays to dry directly in the sun. In our tropical sun, it takes two days of drying before the crackers can be fried.

7. Deep-frying crackers takes skill. Use plenty of oil. If oil is too hot or not hot enough, crackers will not expand much. Make sure the whole cracker is submerged in the oil or the areas that aren't will be hard. Good luck.

25 comments:

ekeng said...

Prawn Cracker is my fav..especially on CNY..but i can't have it this year..i need to work on Chinese New Year :(

mike c said...

hey, we're snown bound 2 day.Kids have snow day & i got day off from work. K still made it 2 work. call her dedicated or her boss a slave driver....ur p crackers look just delicious, i can just hear them crackle. no doubt home made p crackers r best. i do like the tongue sticking ones until u mentioned the pregy fly...that just puts me off from now on. now what am i 2 do 2 get my pc fix. the part about practise3 inorder 2 make perfect pc's would keep me from attempting 2 make my own... great receipe though!

Hungry Hamster said...

wow, that looks really delicious! I'm so tempted to try it...but looks like it needs LOTS of effort!! I'm sure they'll be worthed though!

Shan said...

I love prawn crackers but they always tend to give me a sore throat for some reason...Strange...

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

ekeng: work during CNY?? u poor thing. but just sneak in a pack of prawn crackers.

mike: how i wish i could be in Toronto (for 1 or 2 days only) in winter, all dressed up in a fur-lined leather trench and high-heeled boots and walking on Bloor St.like those executives(as a student i couldn't afford to dress like that), elegant even in the freezing cold). i love d smell of coffee as u go down to the Bloor St subway.i'll visit u guys this year n bring some pc!

hungryhamster: it is a lot of work. d 1st batch i made had a smooth texture, thickness just right but was too bland (i forgot the recipe said 'heaped tsp).d 2nd batch had good smooth texture n d right amount of salt but were sliced too thick. d 3rd, there were too many holes...

shan: bc they r deep-fried n there's lots of msg n oil. not smthing u shd eat often.

Sophia said...

Good job, I am very impressed when I saw your pic on Prawn Crackers. I had tried a recipe from one of the food forum and it didn't puff just blah. Since the air inside the house was dry in the winter I let them dry in door and then a little in the oven. I will definitely love to try your version and will let you know.

Thanks for sharing. I have been looking for years since we can't get it here in my part of town in the Western Country.

Peaches

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

sophia: yes do make it n let me know how ur crackers tuned out *crosses fingers*

Celia said...

Thank you for the recipe - they worked well. I've posted a photo at my blog. Made a big batch for CNY! Next time I'll try a bit more salt, and maybe invest in a better slicer (the thicker ones didn't "pong"/expand). Thanks again.

Mel said...

Hi Terri,

Thank for your prawn cracker recipe, it taste very delicious. But abit tough to use knife to slice. Can you please let me know what type of slicer to slice the prawn cracker roll. Many Thank.

terri@adailyobsession said...

celia: hi, just saw ur comment on a random check. ur prawn crackers look evn better than mine, smoother n finer. what brand of tapioca flr did u use? about the slicer, a good mandoline slicer does the job well:)btw, it's hard to leave a comment on ur blog.

mel:like i told celia above, the mandoline slicer works well for slicing prawn crackers but u'll still need a bit of practice.

Pete said...

Thks for this wonderful recipe. Cheers!

Rowena... said...

I am utterly amazed by these. It never occurred to me that you could make your own from scratch! Wow!

cookingwithali said...

I have been following your blog for a while now and I LOVE it. This prawn crackers post is AMAZING! And it warmed my heart to see your reference to the famous Brunei prawn crackers :) I can't wait to try your recipe! although I'll have to wait a while since I'm so busy these days. Thanks so much for sharing all of your recipes!

I just started my own food blog in January.
http://www.cookingwithali.wordpress.com

would love it if you'd consider adding the link to your blog roll :) But no pressure!
Take care!
Alison

Helen said...

Wow!I don't have to get from Brunei anymore. I will try to do it next summer and will let you know how it work.

Thanks
Helen
Sydney

Alastair Kinghorn said...

We can't buy prawn crackers here in Brazil, and just love cooking real Chinese food, so thank you very much for your Aunties recipe, I'll definitely try it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recipe. Do you think I can dry the prawn cracker in dehydrator instead of under the sun?

daniel said...

nice tutorials :)

Caca said...

lots of skills involve in making the crackers.

Ivy said...

Thanks for the well-documented, well-written post! I've always been curious about these. One question: Have you ever tried drying the shrimp chips out in a really low oven? Seems it might be a bit quicker.

terri@adailyobsession said...

hi ivy: i've heard tt you can dry them in the oven and dehydrator but i've not done it before so i can't give any instructions:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this recipe . I have always been dreaming to have this recipe ....I will try it some time soon .

NL

Anonymous said...

I tried many recipes and this one is a real treat to my family which I made for this CNY. I must give u a big 'thumb up' & thank u for sharing the recipe.

Sakkarin said...

Would using powdered dried prawns work as an alternative to fresh?

Shu Yi Wu said...

Thanks for your Recipes.
May i know what is msg?

Alice

Shu Yi Wu said...


may i ask need to add water inside or not? cos when i mixed all the ingredient together it become very dry (put 250g prawn with 150g starch flour mixed together already very dry), hope can get your reply to solve my doubt,tks!

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