What do I do with shrimp paste?
February 26, 2005 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I bought shrimp paste. I wanted to make vietnamese grilled shrimp paste. But I'm not sure I bought the right thing. Did I buy the right thing and if not, what do I do with the stuff I bought?

I've had grilled shrimp paste in vietnamese restaurants. It was yummy. So when I saw shrimp paste at an asian supermarket today and it was cheap, I bought it. The ingredients say shrimp, salt, sugar.

Now I go on allrecipes.com and do a search for recipes with shrimp paste as an ingredient, and turn up one, but it's something else entirely. It seems recipes for grilled shrimp paste start from the whole shrimp and work from there. What's more it looks like where they go from there is to a shrimp paste that involves more than just shrimp, salt, and sugar.

So can I somehow add things to this paste and make grilled shrimp paste? How do I figure out how much of each ingredient to add per X amount of pre-made shrimp paste? And if this is just the wrong stuff entirely, what can I do with it?
posted by duck to Food & Drink (7 answers total)
You might want to look here. My wife the chef thinks that it is a condiment. She's pretty sure that what you are thinking of - shrimpy meatballs wrapped around sugar cane - is made from whole shrimp. Shrimp paste can be used for other things like grilled lemon grass beef skewers.
posted by fixedgear at 3:10 PM on February 26, 2005

Have a feeling you bought something called belacan (or blacan, trassi) which is like anchovy paste. I second fixdgear in thinking you may be referring to a receipe called chao tom which is bbq'ed shrimp wrapped around sugar cane. You may be able to use the shrimp paste for things like sambal blacan. This site may help narrow down what is you purchased and how to use it.
posted by squeak at 3:29 PM on February 26, 2005

Have you opened it yet? Shrimp paste can be exceedingly stinky. It's definitely not the kind of thing one would ball up and grill: it's a condiment, as everyone is saying.

I make a fair amount of southeast Asian food yet I hardly ever use the stuff, but when I store it, I keep it in a ziploc bag. Inside another one. Inside some tupperware. In the back of the fridge.
posted by nev at 8:50 PM on February 26, 2005

Ditto the idea that you bought a condiment. There are 2 types of shrimp paste, though - one is fairly hard and molded in a block, the other is a spoonable paste that comes in a jar. The former is the Indonesian and Malaysian version, called trassi (also spelled terasi), or belacan (also spelled blacan). The "c" here is pronounced "ch", by the way. The wetter form is probably Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai. I've used both in cooking Thai and Indonesian food, typically about one teaspoon per dish. A little goes a long way, but they are almost immortal (refrigerate the bottled stuff). The blocks tend to dry out after long storage, so I prefer the wetter stuff even though it smells worse.

If you're familiar with Thai or Vietnamese cooking, you already know fish sauce ("nam pla" in Thai). Shrimp paste condiment is used somewhat similarly, but the taste is funkier (hard to describe - like fish sauce mixed with strong cheese?). Anyway, it smells godawful so you'd never be tempted to eat it straight, but when used judiciously it gives a rich meaty undertone to a sauce.

You'd put a teaspoon or 2 into a dish with a strong rich sauce, like a Thai meat curry. It might also go into a thick sauce for grilled meat or a meat-based dipping sauce for vegetables (sort of a ground-pork Sloppy Joe that assorted raw or parboiled veggies are dunked in). Where you would probably not use shrimp paste is in stir-fries or salads - anything with a clear sauce and light flavor.

Charmaine Solomon's cookbooks are a good source of recipes (and mouthwatering pictures!). I've used both of these quite happily, but you need to be a fairly experienced cook as she doesn't go into a lot of detail in the procedures. Nancie McDermott's book is a little easier for beginners.

On preview, I heartily second nev's recommended storage procedure!
posted by Quietgal at 9:24 PM on February 26, 2005

Here's a recipe for what you were trying to make. But speaking as someone who likes to cook complex things for the fun of it, this recipe makes me quail. Order out!
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:22 PM on February 26, 2005

It definitely sounds as though you've purchased something different from the "grilled" thing you describe, and that the former is NOT an ingredient in making the latter. The only thing they have in common is that they are both made from grinding shrimps into a paste.

Shrimp paste as I know it is called bagoong (in the Philppines), is purplish in color, comes in a jar, is pungent, salty, and--to us--quite yummy. Other Asian varieties are brown, maroon, and sometimes pink. It truly is just made with just shrimp and salt - sugar optional:
This dish is made from small prawns. Firstly, prawn is netted then washed up by salt water in the sea or fresh water but with a certain amount of salt. Prawn is salted then and kept in pottery pot placed in out space in any kind of weather. Later the mixture is well - ground and kept mixing and checking until salted prawn turns into pinkish and purple paste with strong smell. Usually the whole procedure is around one/three months. [source]
To find recipes that use this kind of shrimp paste as an ingredient, look up the terms "bagoong" (Philippines), "belcan" or "blachan" (Malaysia), "terasi" or "trassi" (Indonesia), or "kapee" or "kapi" (Thailand).

Around here, we use them in stews and soups and anything that needs salting-up. It is also commonly used as a table condiment, much like soy sauce or ketchup. Sometimes we eat it with sliced raw green mangoes, or in a meal with either dried fish or sour pork, sliced tomatoes, and fried rice. Considering the strength of the smell and taste, USE VERY SPARINGLY. It really does enhance flavors wonderfully when done properly. Give shrimp paste a chance. ;)
posted by Lush at 10:46 PM on February 26, 2005

What you bought is most likely the ka-pi (sometimes transliterated ga-pi) that Lush mentioned. It's got nothing to do with the Vietnamese grilled-pounded-shrimp-on-a-stick dish you were aiming for.

It is, however, very useful as a base for making homemade Thai curry pastes - which are totally worth the effort, because readymade curry pastes from Thailand usually have way too much ground chili in them to bulk up their weight because it's the cheapest ingredient.

Here's a red curry paste recipe that calls for the thing I'm pretty sure you bought.

Can't speak for it as a condiment - I use it only as a base for curry pastes, and I find even fish sauce a bit much for my palette on its own, and this after many months of travel in Southeast Asia and a decade of eating the region's various sublime cuisines at every opportunity.
posted by gompa at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2005

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