Foodstuff: Dried Shrimp

Dried Shrimp 1

If you have never yet used dried shrimp then you really think about adding this very versatile foodstuff to your pantry. Like mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, or raisins, the drying process concentrates the flavors of the original product and shrimp, in particular, pack an umami-punch that makes the dried variety very useful indeed…

Dried Shrimp 2

For the longest time, I associated dried shrimp almost exclusively with Chinese cuisine; mostly, because it has generally been in Chinese grocery stores that I have purchased them. In fact, though, they are widely used throughout south-east Asia, India, Africa and Latin-America. I was also surprised to learn, recently, that they are also quite popularly used in the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana, especially as an addition to gumbos and the like.

Dried Shrimp 3

Dried shrimp come in a whole range of sizes; from tiny, papery little things to some that are quite large and fleshy. They are traditionally processed by salting the freshly caught shrimp and then drying them in the sun, but commercial dryers are used as well. Both the saltiness and the dryness can vary considerable and the larger ones tend to be a bit softer, and even moister, than the smaller.

In Chinese, there is a distinction made between the larger variety, which are known as蝦米 (pinyin: xiāmǐ), and the tiny varieties, known as蝦皮, or ‘xiāpí’ in Mandarin. The Chinese name for the larger ones means ‘shrimp rice’, reflecting the grain-like appearance, whilst name for the smaller ones means ‘shrimp skin’, which is somewhat accurate in that, after drying, there is very little left other than the shell and appendages. Surprisingly, however, they are every bit as flavorful as the larger types. The large ones may be completely shelled but it is also common to buy some where some, or even all, of the shell still remains.

Culinary Use

Dried shrimp are usually soaked before use but they can also be added as is to soups or stews, or rice as it is being cooked. If you are soaking the shrimp, you should always save the soaking water as it will be very flavorful and can also be added to your main preparation.

In many dishes, just a small amount of shrimp can be added as a flavoring agent, but there are also other dishes where they are the sole focus, or else a substantial ingredient in their own right. They are also a major ingredient in the Chinese condiment known as XO Sauce and in south-east Asia especially, they are often included as a component of spice pastes, much like the more pungent fermented varieties such as Belacan.

Dried Shrimp 4

One of my favorite uses of dried shrimp is in steamed or fried rice and, if you would like to get a good idea of the taste, this is a good preparation for you to start with. Generally, I find that about a third of a cup added to a cup of rice as it goes in the steamer is a good amount. Very small ones can be added whole but the very large varieties should be chopped up a little first.

Other Recipes Using Dried Shrimp

24 thoughts on “Foodstuff: Dried Shrimp”

  1. I have to say that my mom puts these in everything. She have large jars of the stuff in varying degrees of size and color. I never notice them in her food, so I think that she must grind them up or something . . .

    1. The argument in our house is: how long do these things keep? Steve has some in the refrigerator that I am loathe to let him use. But he says: They last forever! They are tasty little bits, for sure.

      1. They do last for a VERY long time, but not forever. In the fridge, they are fine until they develop a definite ‘ammonia’ taste….. to be safe, use before that happens and replace them periodically if you don’t use them often… they are cheap, after all 🙂

  2. Interesting! I have used dried bonito flakes but not dried shrimp. Do you find it hard to pick out the better quality product (no chemical drying agents or preservatives) when all the packaging is in Chinese? How do you know what is of good quality?

    1. I use bonito flakes too but they are not quite as versatile as they have that very ‘smoky’ component to the taste. I can generally translate Chinese (but I am stuck with Thai or Korean)… generally just shrimp and salt are used. Also … I often buy them in loose bulk in Chinese stores.

      Quality is mostly determined by visual apperance, but you can also tell if they are past prime if there is a slight ammonia smell to them… I havent bought any like that but occasionally after you keep them too long they either lose their aroma or develop off tastes.

    1. I find it hit or miss … depends on how old the product is as far as taste goes, I find. The small ones lose taste quicker than the bigger ones generally, but there is a size I have (not shown above as I forgot them) but it is just between the two tiny ones and the the three larger. I find them very good.. still just a little soft and no shell fragments at all.

  3. I like your picture of the different sizes. Very informative post. I use “shrimp rice” with dried mushroom, nappa cabbage, garlic, and broth in 白菜滷 (braised nappa cabbage). I admit I don’t use it as much as my mom because I try to make our meals more diverse (my husband gets tired of Asian cuisine if we have it too much). Another one of my favourite usage of these little shrimps is in radish cake.

  4. Beware of dried shrimp that have a very attractive orange colour. They look great, but dried shrimp should have a pale, almost transparent colour. A very vibrant, healthy looking orange colour means they are not healthy at all, but have been treated with large amounts of artificial food colouring.

  5. I have a package of dried shrimp powder. Not quite certain how to use it. Any ideas? I think it be used for flavoring. Would appreciate any ideas.

    1. I don’t believe I have ever purchased dried shrimp that has been completely pulverized or powdered … Try stirring some into rice as it is steaming, or later when frying already-cooked rice. You could also try adding it to curry sauces (or similar ‘wet’ spicy preparations). Basically, you could probably substitute it wherever one might use Belacan, Terassi, or any other fermented shrimp preparation. Try googling those words, or do a search of my site 🙂

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