The recipe for these fantastic fritters, packed with shrimp and bean sprouts and served with a chili sauce, comes from Pranee Halvorsen, a charming, energetic teacher of Thai cooking in Seattle. The fritters are sure to be a hit at any party, but because Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner, you can get a batch made and frozen and reheat them at a moment’s notice.
The fritters are especially crispy from the rice flour and carbonated water in the batter. Sparkling mineral water or club soda work just fine. But Pranee uses limestone water for carbonation. And what she does is very cool. She buys small containers of pasty pink limestone paste in Southeast Asian markets. The day before cooking the fritters, Pranee soaks a tablespoon or so of the limestone in a screw-cap 1-quart jar with about 3 cups of water. She shakes the jar vigorously, turning the liquid pink. After settling, the water is clear and has tiny bubbles. She measures what she needs for a recipe, recaps the jar, and refrigerates it. So long as bubbles are present in the water, it’s good to use.
I've used limestone water, club soda and sparkling mineral water (Pellegrino), and find the results to be indistinguishable. But, making limestone water is fun, and it's authentic, and if you're willing to seek it out, you'll get a kick out of working with it. I order limestone paste from importfood.com. It comes in a 4-ounce container labeled Red Lime Paste and costs $3.49. This is a great site for all things Southeast Asian. You can order rice flour from them, too. But rice flour is also sold in many supermarkets and in health food stores.
Make the batter 30 minutes or so before adding the filling ingredients. The fritters cook in just a few minutes. For best results, serve them hot with the Thai chili sauce recipe below. Let the game begin!
Thai shrimp and bean sprout fritters
Makes 24 shrimp fritters.
2 cups rice flour (spooned into the cup and leveled; 8 ounces)
¾ cup cake flour (dip dry measure into flour and level off; 3 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups limestone water or sparkling mineral water or club soda
8 ounces fresh bean sprouts
1 pound raw shrimp in the shell, peeled and deveined, cut into ½-inch pieces
6 scallions, ends trimmed, thinly sliced or 1 cup thinly sliced garlic chives
4 garlic cloves, minced
Peanut or corn oil for frying
Thai chili sauce (recipe follows)
1. To make the batter, put the rice flour, cake flour and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine well. Add the limestone water or mineral water or club soda and whisk until smooth. Let stand 30 minutes, uncovered.
2. To make the fritters, add the bean sprouts, shrimp, scallions and garlic and stir to coat the ingredients thoroughly with the batter. Line a baking sheet or tray with several thicknesses of paper towels. Pour about ½ inch of oil into a large (12-inch) skillet on medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot and on the verge of smoking, quickly spoon heaping tablespoonfuls of the fritter batter into the oil leaving a bit of space between the fritters. Use about a quarter of the fritter batter, making 6 fritters at a time. Cook about 1 minute, until the bottoms of the fritters are golden brown and crisp. Turn the fritters over with a metal spatula and cook the second side the same way. Transfer the fritters to the paper towels to drain. Cook the remaining fritters in batches of 6 each the same way. Serve as soon as possible with the chili sauce.
3. Making ahead. You can cook the fritters ahead and freeze them. Put the cooked and drained fritters on a tray lined with waxed paper or plastic wrap and freeze solid. Transfer the fritters to heavy-duty resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 2 weeks. To serve, arrange the frozen fritters on a baking sheet and reheat them in a preheated 450-degree oven until sizzling hot, 5 to 8 minutes. Serve as soon as possible. This makes great party food, and having a few dozen fritters in the freezer is a definite frozen asset.
Thai chili sauce
Pranee Halvorsen, who taught me this recipe, immigrated to the United States in 1991 from Phuket Island, home to three main Thai groups: Buddhist, Muslim and Chinese. When she first arrived in this country, Thai cooking wasn't as popular as it is today, so she had to adapt her recipes extensively. One thing that Pranee's mother always had on hand was some sort of chili sauce. At home, Pranee says, they put chili sauce on practically everything. So one of the first challenges to her was duplicating as best she could, the chili sauce she loved the most. After much testing, this is the recipe she makes now, and she always has a supply of it on hand. It's easy, and it can be made as hot as you like. The sauce keeps in the refrigerator indefinitely. Quantities may be doubled if you want.
Makes 1 generous cup.
5 dried New Mexico or Guajillo chili pods
6 large garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ to ⅓ cup tamarind concentrate (also available at importfood.com)
¼ cup rice vinegar (Pranee uses Marukan Seasoned Gourmet), plus more if needed
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar, light or dark, plus more if needed
1. Remove and discard the stems from the chilies. Cut the pods into 1-inch pieces with scissors and place them, seeds and all, into a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Add boiling water to cover and let the chilies steep until they are very soft, about 1 hour.
2. Put the garlic, salt, tamarind, rice vinegar and brown sugar into the work bowl of a food processor. Remove the softened chilies from the water with a slotted spoon, allowing excess water to drain back into the bowl, and add the chilies to the food processor. Some seeds will come along with the chilies. If you like your sauce really hot, pass the water through a strainer and add some or all of the remaining seeds to the food processor. Process until smooth about 1 minute. To make the sauce even hotter in a spicy way, scrape it into a medium saucepan and cook it, stirring frequently, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with more brown sugar and/or rice vinegar, if necessary. If the sauce seems too thick, thin it with a little water. Cool the sauce and transfer it to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.