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More Help with Dried Shrimp

I have only tried to use dried shrimp once and it didn't go very well - maybe someone can help?

I made the Pad Thai recipe from February's Cookbook of the month Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet but the dried shrimp came out rubbery and inedible. The instructions called for me to stirfry them over high heat for 30 seconds towards the end. Which is what I did. I want to attempt it again tonight but I am hesitant to add the shrimp.

What did I do wrong? Any pointers?

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  1. Did you soak the dried shrimp? You are supposed to soak it overnight, or at least for 4+ hours or more.

    1. lol. I knew this was going to be a stupid question. But there is absolutely no reference to soaking them in the recipe. I figured it would at least say "1T dried shrimp, soaked" if that was the case. Whew. Okay. Well I guess they aren't going in tonight's dinner at any rate.

      1. "I knew this was going to be a stupid question."

        When in doubt
        Ask and find out.

        The stupid questions are the ones that are NOT asked. Your question and WHills' response are going to be of help to me also. I just bought dried shrimp today. Neither the package nor the recipe for which I intend to use them explains that they need to be soaked. So thanks to both of you for the question and the answer.

        1. I've used dried shrimp in many Chinese dishes and always pre-soaked, then chopped them finely. I think even soaked they are very chewy. Here's an excellent, blow-by-blow description of how to make pad thai which doesn't use dried shrimp, but fresh which is what I've always used and been served in restaurants:

          2 Replies
          1. re: cheryl_h

            Actually, the descripton mentioned by cheryl_h on chez pim's blog DOES use dried shrimp though it is optional in the recipe. The blow-by-blow description does not mention soaking and suggests using a stone mortar and pestle on the dried shrimp "until fluffy"

            1. re: wingsofdesire

              Has anyone been able to get this to work? I grinded away and could barely break my dried shrimp, let alone get it "fluffy". I am hesitant to use my food processor because chez pim specifically warns against it:

              "It's important to use the mortar here and not your cuisinart, which will turn to dried shrimp into hard, dried chunks (entirely capable of cracking a tooth) instead of fluffy bits of salty shrimp."

              The package expires next year and I have rehydrated the dried shrimp and tasted to make sure the shrimp are not bad.

          2. You generally need to soak most of the dried products you buy from Asian markets.

            1. I've never soaked mine. The pad thai recipe that I use calls for grinding them with the peanuts and pickled radish and sprinkling that in at the end.

              1. IMO dried shrimp in pad thai are not supposed to be hydrated.

                You grind them with a mortar and pastle and add them in at the end with the pickled vegetable and peanuts -- much like Amy above said.

                They are supposed to be salty, chewy little nibbles.

                1 Reply
                1. re: C. Hamster

                  I agree. If your dried shrimp are really, really hard (most of the asian dried shrimps are), you can whizz 'em in the food processor to make a "fluffy" dried shrimp that works well as a garnish. Louisiana dried shrimp aren't as thoroughly dried out as the asian ones, and the LA kind almost always have their shells removed. They make excellent beer munchies, and they add a nice savory counterpoint to simple veggie dishes like smothered squash or potatoes.

                2. Also, the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Pad Thai, which is excellent IMHO and very much like the one I usually use from a great Thai restaurant that used to be in suburban DC, calls for finely chopped dried shrimp and doesn't mention soaking them.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: AmyH

                    I labored for quite some time today finely chopping my dried shrimp and still the end result was not very palatable in my pad thai. Do you omit the dried shrimp for yourself? If not, is there a specific brand you prefer?

                    1. re: bmorecupcake

                      It's been quite a while since I've made this (my last post on this was 3 years ago), but I recall grinding the dried shrimp in the food processor along with the peanuts and maybe even the pickled radish and sprinkling it on top. I have no idea what brand of shimp I used, and doubt that I would find the same brand twice at my Asian market.

                      1. re: bmorecupcake

                        Larger dried shrimp tend to be softer than the smaller ones. You really need to smash them up rather than chopping. If you are having problems smashing them up in a mortar and pestle, then it will be too hard to eat anyway. As a last resort, soften by steaming (instead of soaking) so that the requisite saltiness isn't washed away. Otherwise, buy some softer ones. Unfortunately, I can't offer you a brand name because I tend to buy my shrimp from a bin at Asian groceries where I live. Here I can get it in about 5-6 grades and sizes (the smallest being the cheapest).

                        I prefer to not omit because when I use it as an ingredient, I'm usually aiming for authenticity in the dish. And I like the flavour and texture it imparts. If you are not a fan, then just leave it out.

                        1. re: fmed

                          I tried different sizes and brands, with varying success (probably depending on how much energy I have that day.) And then i found some really tiny ones which come with the heads on. These ones break really easily, but they don't fluff up like the others. I didn't use them yet because they didn't look fluffy. Are these tiny shrimp for something else?

                          1. re: bmorecupcake

                            It's hard to give a general answer to that question. It really depends on the particular cuisine and/or dish...and more importantly, it depends on the actual product.

                            If you can't work these particular small ones into this particular recipe, use them in spice pastes or add to soups, stews, etc. Next time you go out shopping try some fairly large ones (which tend to be more "fibrous" and thus end up fluffier when pounded.)

                    2. How big are your shrimp? I buy the tiniest kind and use them as a garnish - miso soup, sprinkled over rice, in omelets, in carbonara type dishes, etc, without soaking or grinding.