A lot of shrimp is used for preparing the vast array of Cantonese dim sum. Can’t you imagine the kitchen crew peeling mounds and pounds of shrimp day after day? Don’t be silly, you’re probably saying. They use peeled and deveined shrimp. Yes, they may, but I like to peel and devein my own shrimp. It’s up to you but the prepped shrimp never tastes as good to me.
That aside, there’s a particular prawn forcemeat (a fancy word for paste) that’s used in a number of dim sum preparations. The fragrant paste is used as a stuffing for mushroom caps, tofu, eggplant, and bell peppers. It may also be deep-fried like a meatball and used as a filling for tofu skin rolls. Or, it can be used like a dough and molded around a crab claw that’s then deep-fried to a crisp. Whatever the use, the paste is pretty much the same. Traditionally, it was pounded by hand but the food processor is a super handy kitchen helper on this occasion. Here is my version, which I’ll be putting to use in a number of ways for dumplings and dim sum treats.
What if you're allergic to shrimp?
Try substituting a mild white fish filet, such as sole!
Basic Dim Sum Shrimp Paste
Makes 1 cup
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (6 1/2 ounces net weight)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Scant 1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
2 tablespoons minced bamboo shoot
1 1/2 teaspoons minced pork fatback or canola oil
1. Refresh the shrimp by putting them in a colander and tossing them with a liberal amount of salt. Rinse immediately under lots of cold water and drain well. Blot dry with paper towel.
2. Coarsely chop the shrimp, then put them in a bowl. Add a scant 1/4 teaspoon of salt, the cornstarch, sugar, pepper, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and egg white. Transfer to a food processor and process just until a coarse paste forms. See the photo below for clues.
Transfer to a bowl, stir in the scallion, bamboo shoot, and pork fatback. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, before using. The mixture will stiffen as it sits. It can be used at room temperature or cold.
A recipe that use this shrimp paste: