Who'd have thought prawn crackers would become part of the British fine dining scene? In Britain we know them from the greasy brown paper bag bulging on top of a Chinese takeaway, guiltily enjoyed most with breakfast the morning after. Yet in parts of Malaysia or Indonesia a prawn cracker recipe is revered as a home made treat; and in China, crispy fried chicken with the compulsory sides of pepper-salt and prawn crackers is Cantonese wedding fare.
Last summer Alyn Williams at the eponymous restaurant, Alyn Williams at the Westbury, presented delicate home made Vietnamese-spiced prawn crackers along with a glass of champagne. On the Great British Menu, Daniel Clifford coated red mullet with a finely blitzed powder, before deep frying and waiting for the puff. We were told it was finely ground pork skin, but had it been made from uncooked prawn crackers the effect would have been similar. And then just last week Azélia of Azélia's Kitchen posted an instagram photo of her deep black squid ink prawn cracker amuse bouche at 2-Michelin Star The Square. Served with a light and zesty smoked cod roe mousse, I am told, they were divine.
Prawn crackers are easy to make. Just two ingredients: prawns and tapioca flour.
Prawn crackers are easy to make. Just two main ingredients: prawns and tapioca flour. Squid ink gives a great colourful contrast. You could add spices to the dough, or change the prawns for fish, or possibly even meat. As a vegan option, I've heard of prawns being replaced with cooked potato.
The prawn cracker recipe has four stages:
- Blending the cooked prawns with tapioca flour, along with squid ink and a little water to make a dough
- Cooking the dough in a steamer for an hour, and then chilling overnight to firm up
- Slicing the crackers finely, and leaving them to dry. In a hot country this'd be in the sun for a few days. In Britain, we used an oven for a few hours.
- Deep frying the crackers to make them puff up.
Just start the prawn or squid ink cracker recipe at least a day before they are to be served. And leave plenty of time for drying...
Ingredients Serves: 20
- Blend the prawns in a food processor until smooth. Add the tapioca flour, salt and MSG (if using) and pulse until well blended. Add a little water at a time, until the dough starts to come together. Stop the processor, and lift out a small amount. If you can form it into a shape, the prawn cracker dough is ready. If not, add a little more water, process and try to form into a ball again. The dough should be a stiff dry consistency.
- Remove half the dough from the food processor, and knead on the counter. This is your pink dough. To make the black dough, add the squid ink to the remaining dough in the food processor, and pulse until blended. Always work with the pink dough first, so it isn't discoloured by the black. Knead each dough by hand a few minutes, and then shape into a cylinder 2-3 inches in diameter.
- Place the two rolls side by side in a steamer, and steam for approx 1 hour, until the centre of the cylinders is at least 85°C. Leave to cool.
- When cool, wrap in cling film, and place in the fridge overnight to set.
- Remove the rolls of prawn cracker dough from the fridge, unwrap, and slice finely using a Japanese mandolin or kitchen knife. A mandolin is easiest!
- To dry the dough circles, lay on a baking sheet and place in a fan oven at its lowest temperature, or place in a dehydrator. At 50°C, they will take between 2 and 6 hours depending on thickness. When dry the prawn crackers should be firm throughout.
- To fry the crackers, heat a pan of vegetable oil to 200°C. Start with one cracker - if it is chewy in the middle, the crackers are not dry enough. Just put back in the oven or dehydrator for a little longer.
- Drop several crackers at a time into the oil, and watch them expand. Remove to kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil. They will stay crisp for a couple of days if needed.