Foodstuff: Shrimp Paste – Lingayen™ Brand
I have featured a number of fermented shrimp products in these pages, including the dried paste variety used in South-East Asian cookery known as Terassi or Belacan, and the Lee Kum Kee version of a Chinese style Shrimp Paste. When I saw this particular product on our local store shelves, I initially assumed that it was a sauce of some type intended for stir-frying shrimp but, after closer inspection, I realized that the shrimp ‘fry’ refers to the baby shrimp typically dried and fermented to make culinary pastes and that the word ‘fry’ is used in the same sense as ‘small fry’ when referring to tiny fish.
The Lingayen™ Brand variety is a product of the Philippines (some may remember the name from the WW2 naval battle of Lingayen Gulf), and the paste, I was interested to learn, is a bit different than its Chinese and South-East Asian counterparts…
The ingredients list on the label indicates that the product contains:
- Sautéed Shrimp Fry;
- Vegetable Oil;
- Hot Pepper; and,
The last ingredient is food colorant and is the only thing I rather dislike about the product. It gives the paste a reddish color and, although it is not unduly garish or unnatural, I would prefer to have it unadulterated this way. The inclusion of garlic and hot peppers makes the paste differ from the simpler types which often only contain fermented shrimp, salt and oil, but, in truth, these flavorings do not significantly impact the taste.
The first thing that struck me upon opening the jar is that the aroma is not nearly as powerful as other fermented shrimp products. The smell is very much a pungent shrimp aroma, but it doesn’t have the sickly sweet and sometimes off-putting quality of other shrimp pastes have before they are cooked. The texture is quite granular, not nearly as smooth as the Lee Kum Kee paste, for instance, and in this regard it is a bit more like the dried Terasi once it has been crushed to make a paste.
The lid carries a warning, as do other fermented shrimp products, that the paste is not for raw consumption but must first be cooked. This is a little surprising in that the ingredient list specifies sautéed shrimp fry, meaning it is already partially cooked, but, in any event, I ignored the warning for the purposes of reviewing the product and sampled a bit straight from the jar.
The taste, I found, is similar to Terasi, albeit somewhat milder, but what really struck me was the sweetness. It was so sweet in fact that I am not sure to believe the label when it omits sugar from the ingredient list. The garlic component was really undetectable and the chili left no more impression than a slight spiciness in the aftertaste. This is a good thing, I think, as these ingredients can always be added separately in whatever dish you are making, and the light use here allows the product to remain more versatile than might otherwise be the case.
To test the paste in cooking, I stir-fried about a tablespoon or so with a little oil and then added some slivers of bell pepper and onion along with thick noodles. I included the veggies for a little texture and color but I otherwise kept the additions simple so as not to interfere with the taste of the shrimp paste.
Even in the hot oil, the paste did not give off any of the alarming odors that can fill your whole house when using other fermented shrimp products and actually had quite a pleasant aroma. I didn’t care for the color very much, it was a bit too pink, I thought, but the taste was very nice. The shrimp flavor was assertive without being overpowering and the chili heat actually came through just a bit more strongly than when I tasted it raw. In all, it strikes me that this product would be a good ‘beginner’s’ paste for those who have been curious about this sort of preparation but are a bit hesitant about the more pungent varieties. I think I will quite likely purchase it again.