I remember when I was younger (many moons ago), I used to visit one of the local Chinese Take Aways on the way home from school and order a portion of Prawn Crackers (Shrimp Crackers for our cousins across the Atlantic). Back in those times, for 50 pence you could get a greasy brown paper bag full of crunchy crisp Crackers.
Depending on what shop I visited, sometimes the Crackers came in a range of bright colours, however, they tasted all the same, but when you were younger and munching away on the road, you really didn´t mind. (Yes, it was the days of Moon-boots and when you knew the profound meaning of “Wax on, Wax off”) 🙂
A few years later (during a visit to a Chinatown shop) I actually got to see what they looked like in their uncooked status.
Round, almost transparent discs, when fried they would swell in size, become crunchy and quite addictive. The funniest thing was that the price of the 200g package was only 89 pence, and after cooking them at home, I realised that I could get about 7 or 8 “portions” from the Crackers from the dried discs. Seemed that our local Take Away shop was making a small fortune on these things.
A few more years later, when I had gone off (grown out of) the greasy bag of Crackers and started on the Marlboro´s (a bad day for me, but a good one for Philippe Morris 😯 ), I was invited to a Thai Restaurant by some college friends. On the table when we arrived was a wooden bowl of Prawn Crackers, though this time they looked different. They were a little more thick, and had a light spicy finish. These I would later learn where known as Thai Prawn Crackers (which cost a little bit more than their Chinese counterparts). It was funny to see how times had moved on, and that some places were “giving them away for free”.
(Saying that, it didn´t stop Mr. Chan from buying a Mercedes Benz with the Cracker Money). 😆
Nowadays a lot of Asian restaurants give you the Crackers for free, something to nibble on whilst the cooks get your orders ready.
The humble discs have been demoted to free titbits. Their reputation for “something exotic” diminished due to popularity.
But what if I could make them? Perhaps something different? Who knows, perhaps I can buy a Lexus with my Cracker Money! (Okay, I´m kidding, slightly) 😎
No, really. Back to the present (what Sam Becket always wanted). After reading on the side of a box of mass produced crackers, I saw that the Prawn content was seriously low, that made me wonder why they decided to call them “Prawn Crackers” in the first place (Let´s face it, they never really tasted of Prawns anyway).
After days and days of research, I found out that many cultures produce these Crackers, made from Fish, Crab and a whole host of other Seafoods. The fact that the Chinese were perhaps the first to mass produce them, doesn´t really mean that they invented them.
Through my research I found out that these Crackers have many names and origins. I wont bore you with the details, but after going through endless hours of reading, I decided to adopt the Malaysian origins (Keropok), and use that as a base for my version.
So, it was time to spend some quality time in the Laocook Kitchens and start the process.
Now, most commercial producers of Prawn Crackers use less than 5% of actual Prawns 😯 in their Crackers. The majority ingredient is Starch.
I knew that would have to rectify that if I wanted to make something worthwhile. I decided on an experiment using 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80% of Prawns. Then came the question of using Fresh, Frozen or Dry Prawns.
I knew that the starch would have to be Tapioca Flour, the majority of recipes I encountered called for it.
Some recipes also called for Prawn Heads and Shells to be boiled then added to the flour, but that seemed too time consuming for me.
I tried roasting the Shells, grinding them in to a fine powder, but that didn´t really make a difference (I think, though I may change my mind).
I tried various recipes, doctoring them, adding and removing ingredients.
It was one lunch time that the idea came to me. The rest of the team had arrived and we heated up some Sticky Rice and ate it with some Jéow Padek, yes, Fermented Fish, Laotian style. The intense flavour of the Padek was the key. You only needed a little of the Jéow to flavour the Sticky Rice.
I rushed to my Prawn and Flour Mix and added a dollop of Jéow. The end result was okay, perhaps I got the ratios wrong, it was a bit on the Spicy side, but that can be fixed. However, the Prawn flavour was more pronounced. Will I have to change the recipe and use Fish or continue with Prawns? Why has the Prawn flavour become more apparent with the addition of Fish?
As this is really a “work in progress”, I cannot give any answers right now.
One of the key factors is “drying” the Crackers. Sadly at the moment, the Sun is hiding, and I cannot wait until she decides to show herself, so I have been using our oven, set to 60º, then 70º, then 80º. (Actually I have a batch of about 20 Crackers-in-waiting, being dried with different temperatures, for 2, 3, 4, 5 hours, each cut to different thickness).
Three of the many different recipes waiting to be cooked (for different times). Each varies in the amount of ingredients. They are wrapped up in cling film to “hold the shape” of the finished product.
A first look at the Padek Crackers. Puffed up, they have the “crunch”. These are cut by hand, which makes them a little thicker, but at the same time, it gives them that “homemade look”.
These have been made using a 60-40% ratio of Prawns and Starch and a healthy 40g of Jéow Padek, they don´t look it, but they “pack a punch”, ideal to munch on with a cold beer.
Other ingredients that are up for consideration and testing are Lobster, Scarlet Prawns and Crab meat.
The process, like most of our “New” work will take some time, but I am determined to come up with “Padek Crackers“.