When I ventured off to college, oh so far away from my mother, she used to send me care packages full of food and new clothes every so often. One time there was something new in there – a fried spicy dry mixture of dried shrimps and various seasonings. Her handwritten note that accompanied stated that it was good on rice or tossed with noodles or even sprinkled on some buttered bread. I now know that what she sent me was sambal udang kering or hae bee hiam or just generally a dry sambal made with dried shrimp. It keeps very well just in an airtight container and so travels well to a homesick student across the seas.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered the itty bitty spicy shrimp roll, essentially that sambal stuffed inside a miniature spring roll. It’s quite popular in Malaysian and Singapore and they don’t come cheap, what with all the labour involved. This year, I decided to try making them myself. With Chinese New Year coming up (14 Feb), I was (and still am!) hoping to make a variety of little snacks for friends. (This photo shows how the snacks are presented, as I recall when I was a kid, for Chinese New Year to visiting guests.)
But how can a recipe with so few ingredients take so long to make?! I’m looking at the recipe I typed out below with a bit of surprise as yes, that’s what I used and no, it wasn’t quick to make. I reckon I started early afternoon with the chopping of the ingredients for the filling and then finished at about ten at night with the frying (with a break in between for dinner). Most of the time was spent on the rolling, rolling, rolling of the stupid things.
Luckily, the reception for these rolls has been altogether positive which I suppose makes up for all that work! If you don’t feel like rolling so many of them, the filling can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, ready for sprinkling on rice, noodles or bread. This is quite a simple version of sambal udang kering and more complex recipes abound with lots of aromatics inside.
Mini Spicy Shrimp Rolls
100g dried shrimp
8 large dried chilies
4 cloves garlic
3 tbsps sunflower oil
1-1.5 tsp salt, to taste
1-1.5 tbsp sugar, to taste
1 packet of large, square spring roll wrappers (I didn’t use the largest ones; I used the next largest that come 40 to a pack, Spring Home brand)
1 egg, beaten
sunflower oil for frying
Soak the dried shrimps in cold water for 15 minutes. Place into a mini chopper or food processor and process until finely chopped. Set aside.
Peel the shallots and chop finely (I used my mini chopper). Set aside. Peel the garlic cloves and chop finely too.
Soak the dried chilies in warm water until soft. Cut into large pieces, discarding the seeds, and blend with a little water until a paste is formed.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat and when hot, add the 3 tbsps sunflower oil. Fry the chopped shallots for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and fry until it’s fragrant. Stir through the chili paste, letting it cook until much of the liquid has dried up. Add all the processed dried shrimp and continue frying, stirring continuously until the mixture goes quite dry and dark. I didn’t time how long this took but I was frying there for at least 10-15 minutes or so, I think. When done, set it aside and let it cool.
If your spring roll wrappers were frozen, defrost them. Separate them carefully and cut each wrapper into 9 smaller squares. Stack these smaller squares to prevent them from drying out.
Now to wrap them! You might want to get comfortable for this; I was wrapping for a few hours. Place a little less than a teaspoonful of the shrimp mixture on the wrapper and wrap as you would a regular spring roll. (Sorry, no photos of this process but this post illustrates the steps quite nicely). Use a tiny dab of beaten egg at the final point to seal the roll. Repeat until you’re out of wrappers or out of filling (that was me) or out of patience.
To fry them, heat about 2 cm of sunflower oil in a pot or pan on medium-high heat. When you add a roll, the oil should bubble up around it. Fry for about 2 minutes until the roll is golden. Drain well on kitchen paper. Fry all the rolls in not too large batches (don’t want that oil to cool down).
Make sure the rolls have cooled fully before packing them in an airtight container.