Cha Tom Recipe (Vietnamese Shrimp Cakes)
Chả tôm are lightly seasoned shrimp cakes. No tasteless fillers here; a sprinkling of tapioca starch, coriander, green onions, garlic and kaffir lime are the only ingredients added to supplement the flavor and texture of the shrimp. It is true Vietnamese comfort food.
These shrimp cakes make wonderful appetizers, but can also be served as an entrée. Just pair them with vermicelli (called bún chả tôm) and you'll have yourself a very traditional Vietnamese meal. You could also make mini sandwiches for a change of pace. I served them recently as appetizers for a dinner party with a plum dipping sauce. They will be delicious no matter how you choose to prepare them!
Yields: 8 servings2 pounds frozen shrimp
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon red chili powder
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small kaffir lime leaf (optional), very finely chopped
3 green onions (white part only)
3 tablespoons cilantro, + extra for garnish
1-1/3 teaspoons salt
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and sliced
1 yellow onion, cut into thin wedges
1 quart canola oil (or any neutral oil)
Making garlic-infused oil: Heat the canola oil in a skillet. Cut 4 garlic cloves in half, lengthwise. Fry the garlic in the oil, stirring frequently to prevent the garlic from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Reserve the oil. Drain the garlic on paper towels. Set aside.
For the shrimp:
Finely minced the rest of the garlic. Set aside.
Remove and discard the heads of the shrimp if they're still attached. Carefully shell and de-vein the black part of the shrimp using a sharp hook-like paring knife. Rinse the shrimp under cold running water and pat dry using a paper towel. There should be as little water as possible. This step is tedious but essential for good results. Coarsely chop the shrimp.
Lightly oil the bowl of a food processor with a silicone brush. Combine the shrimp, the fried garlic, raw garlic, kaffir lime leaf, sugar, tapioca starch and 3 tablespoons of garlic-infused oil. Blend until a thick paste is formed. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cilantro and green onions and pulse 3-4 times. Transfer the shrimp paste into a bowl.
Checking the seasoning: In a small pan, heat about 1 teaspoon of canola oil. Add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the shrimp mixture. Cook for about 3 minutes. Taste the shrimp. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.
Making chả tôm:
Grease 2 large, flat spoons with oil (I used rice serving spoons). Form (2-½" diameter) round patties and place them on a tray, previously greased with oil. Plastic wrap and let the shrimp chill in the freezer for about 30 minutes (this step will make the cooking of the patties much easier) or until you're ready to fry.
Remove the patties from the freezer. Brush the patties with a little oil.
Frying chả tôm:
Layer a cooling rack, previously lined with paper towels if you like, on top of a baking sheet (for easy clean-up of the drained oil).
In a large Dutch oven (or any regular deep-fryer), heat the oil for about 2-3 minutes over high heat. There should be at least a 2-inch-high level of oil. Wait until the oil is slightly bubbly (but not too hot).
Place one shrimp cake at a time in the hot oil. Fry in batches. Place up to 8-10 shrimp cakes per batch. Make sure the shrimp cakes don't touch each other. Lower the heat to medium for even cooking and to prevent them from browning too fast. Deep fry for about 2 minutes per side. The shrimp will start to slightly increase in volume and form a golden crust. Flip each piece using a spider skimmer and cook for about 1-2 minutes until golden on both sides. Carefully lift each shrimp cake, draining as much oil as possible and transfer them onto the cooling rack. Continue with the remaining shrimp cakes.
In another pan, add 2 tablespoons of oil from the other frying skillet. Heat the oil and sauté the onions and sliced jalapeño pepper in the oil for about 3-4 minutes over high heat, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown but the onions are still crunchy. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter.
On a serving platter, lay the shrimp cakes on a bed of the onions. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro.
Serve immediately with plum dipping sauce on the side.
We're very lucky to get the kaffir lime leaves from my garden. They're very useful and smell so nice. If you have the space to plant a kaffir lime tree, go for it; it's a good investment if you're into Asian cooking. Kaffir lime trees are prized for their fragrant leaves, not their fruits. Don't add too much kaffir lime as it tastes very strong and will overpower the dish. You can use the remaining leaves for sweet and sour soups.
I always have garlic-infused oil on hand. I use it a lot to flavor Asian broths and vinaigrettes.
I didn't have any but another way to make moist shrimp cakes is by adding duck fat instead of oil to the shrimp paste.
For optimum results when heating the frying oil, the thermometer should register 350°F to 375°F. Heat the oil over medium to high heat.
The traditional way to eat these shrimp cakes is by dipping them in fish sauce (nước mắm chấm).
Easy recipe for a plum dipping sauce: Combine 1 cup plum sauce, 1-½ tablespoons rice vinegar, 1-½ tablespoons of garlic-infused oil, ½ teaspoon of Sriracha and 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger in an immersion blender attachment (and the attachment measuring cup) or a mini-prep until the mixture becomes thick and smooth. Add a little water if necessary.Published By: on April 26, 2010.