Photos by L.G. Patterson
In the early 2000s, I had a friend who worked at a restaurant in New York City. The first time I went to this Chinese/French fusion restaurant, they said, “Make sure you get the shrimp toast.”
Being a Midwest boy in New York, I was expecting some type of cooked shrimp on top of toast. But that’s not what I got.
Instead, it appeared to be an overly large crouton with a smear of paste on top that was fried and served with some type of sauce. Honestly, the appearance was somewhat underwhelming.
I’m pretty sure I ate about six.
They were delicious; crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside, salty and addictive. Later, when I was asked about the shrimp toast, I explained how much I liked them and asked how it was made. “Shrimp pureed with pork fat, spread on toast, and fried,” was the response.
“Yup, that’s it!”
As you will read, it is slightly more complicated than that, but not much. It’s easy to make the puree or mousse one day and save to spread on toast another.
The dish is actually a Cantonese dim sum dish that was popularized in Hong Kong and spread throughout cultures in Southeast Asia.
There are different variations of the mousse or mousseline. Some are made with a food processor and can be very smooth, and others are just chopped by hand. You also can make some with a combination of both.
I use a ratio of about four shrimp to three bacon (one of the best types of pork fat), but you can adjust that based on your taste. Garlic, onions, soy sauce and other aromatics help round out the flavor.
You should not just make the mousse and go with it. Cook a small batch to taste and check the salt level and the heat. Does it need more soy sauce and a few more cloves of garlic? It sometimes takes several attempts to get the flavor just right. It is better to fix it now, rather than have all the shrimp toast made and think to yourself, “This could use a little more salt.”
Any bread will work to make shrimp toast. You want slices that are about a quarter to half-inch thick. This is thick enough to have structure for the mousse, but not enough to be too big to eat or soak up too much oil. A brioche roll or bun works well, as does white or wheat bread. Pieces of bread that are large enough for two or three bites are great; triangles, squares, rounds or whatever works best with the type of bread that you have.
This is where you can get creative. A simple soy sauce with ginger and sugar or hot sauce and mayo or sweet pepper sauce all would be delicious. Whatever direction you want to head is great: sweet, salty, sour, whatever your desired taste.
Included in the following recipe is a simple soy and sesame oil sauce with a little chili and ginger that can be drizzled over the toast just before serving.
- 4-6 garlic cloves
- Bottom 2 inches of one bunch of green onions (mostly whites)
- Stems from one bunch of cilantro
- 16 ounces medium shrimp, partially thawed and somewhat icy
- 12 ounces bacon or pork fat, cut into 1-inch slices
- 1 egg white
- 2-3 tbsp soy sauce (more if needed to taste)
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce (more if needed to taste)
- 1/2 inch slices or triangles of bread as needed (about 16-20 ounces)
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2-4 tbsp cilantro, minced
- 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1-2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1/4-1/2 tsp chili pepper, minced
- Blend the garlic, green onion bottoms and cilantro stems in a food processor until smooth. Add the partially frozen shrimp with the bacon cut into 1-inch pieces and egg white. You can blend until smooth or pulse for more of a textured mousse. Season with soy sauce and hot sauce.
- Take out a tablespoon or so of the mixture and fry until cooked all the way through for a taste test. You want a nice balance of salty and spiciness, not overpowering. (Remember, your sauce will add some saltiness and spiciness when it is served.) Once you have achieved the desired taste, you can remove the mousse and store it until you are ready to make your shrimp toast.
- When you are ready to fry your shrimp toast, use the back of a spoon or a spatula to spread a thin layer (about 1⁄4 of an inch) onto the toast. If you would like, you can make all of them and keep them in the refrigerator for four to five hours until you are ready to fry.
- You can pan-fry (oil coming at least halfway up the side of the toast) or deep fry the shrimp toast when you are ready to serve. You want your oil to be about 365 degrees. You can use a deep-fry thermometer or heat the oil until the end of a wooden chopstick or skewer bubbles slightly when put into the oil.
- The shrimp toast should fry with a medium pace of bubbles around as it cooks, not a vigorous amount. Too high and the shrimp toast will be overcooked on the outside and raw on the inside; too low and it will be a soggy mess of oil.
- When the shrimp toast has a nice even golden brown color on the outside, flip and cook until the other side matches. Remove from the oil and rest on paper towels or a rack.
- Plate and drizzle with sauce or serve it on the side.
- Mix all sauce ingredients and adjust with more sugar or soy sauce as needed. Chili pepper can be replaced with hot sauce and adjusted as needed.
- The sauce can be made two or three days beforehand, adding fresh herbs just before serving.
Click here for tips on how to peel and cut ginger for the perfect sauce.