Every once in a while, a dish stops you in your tracks. For me, these shrimp toast (prawn toast to the rest of the world) is one of those dishes.
I remember the first time I had them: I was a junior in high school, and a bunch of us went to China Royal in Fall River after play rehearsal. It was the kind of place that served pu pu platters of fried food and drinks in tiki cups with pink umbrellas.
I felt beyond sophisticated.
The shrimp toast were a revelation. What was not to love? Shrimp, green onions, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds on bread. And they’re fried?! Sign me up. And for years after, I devour them in NYC.
Up here in the culinary cemetery that’s our corner of Connecticut, though, shrimp toasts are rarer than acid-washed mom jeans. So, after a lot of research and digging into the history and origins of the dish, I came up with this recipe. It’s simple and fast, and Lord knows if I can get all the ingredients at my local supermarket, you certainly can, too.
Why Our Testers Loved This
The testers adored the crispy texture of this classic shrimp toast recipe and were very pleased that they were “easy to assemble, very tasty, and super crisp!”
Erin Steele found prawn toast had a “wonderfully crunchy texture thanks to the sesame seed crusts, and they weren’t oily at all.”
A Portuguese-Shrimp Toast Connection?
Being a proud Portuguese, I’m always looking for culinary connections between Portugal and foods from around the world.
The Portuguese were world explorers and established many of the trade routes to the East. The port city of Guangzhou, China, had a large community of Portuguese traders during the 16th and 17th centuries, where and when shrimp toast is thought to have originated.
Some food historians theorize that Chinese shrimp toast was created as a snack for Portuguese sailors in Guangzhou. Others speculate that the Chinese name for prawn toast finds its roots in the Portuguese name “camarão toastado,” which means “toasted shrimp.”
And I’ll toss my hat into the theory ring: Is the marvelous shrimp toast somehow related to humble rissóis de camarão–deep-fried turnovers filled with a shrimp paste?
Hmmmm. Food for thought.
Notes on Ingredients
- Shrimp–You can use fresh or frozen shrimp or prawns here, but be sure to purchase them raw. If using frozen seafood, thaw in the refrigerator and then drain and pat dry before using. The shrimp need to be peeled and deveined before using.
- Scallions, ginger, and garlic–This trinity of ingredients screams Chinese cooking and adds an oniony flavor and spicy heat to the toast triangles.
- Egg white–This helps to lighten the shrimp mixture as well as bind it.
- White sandwich bread–This is the classic base for the shrimp paste. I like to pick the 4 slices in the middle of the loaf, where they’re the same size, rather than from the ends where the top slopes down.
How to Make This Recipe
- Dump the scallions, cilantro, garlic, and ginger in a food processor.
- Blitz until everything is finely chopped.
- Add the shrimp, egg white, soy sauce, cornstarch, and Shaoxing wine, if using, to the food processor.
- Process until smooth.
- Spread the shrimp mixture over the bread slices, then cut into quarters.
- Spread the sesame seeds on a plate and press the top of the toast into the sesame seeds.
- Heat the oil in a skillet to 350°F.
- Fry the shrimp toast until golden.
It’s generally believed that the recipe for Chinese prawn toast originated in the city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton), China. Its popularity spread like wildfire throughout the world and has since become a staple in Hong Kong and American Chinese cuisine, although it’s now more often made with shrimp instead of prawns. You’ll find it on lots of Western Chinese takeout menus as well as in dim sum palaces.
Certainly. This classic take on shrimp toast uses white sandwich bread, but feel free to experiment with wheat, sourdough, or brioche for variations in flavor and texture. The shrimp filling can also be customized with additions such as minced water chestnuts, carrots, or mushrooms for extra crunch and flavor.
I don’t recommend freezing cooked shrimp toast. The bread will be soggy, and the shrimp mixture won’t retain its crispiness when thawed.
But…freezing uncooked shrimp toast is great. To freeze the toast, spread the triangles on a baking sheet and freeze until frozen. Drop them into a zip-top bag, squeeze out excess air, and freeze for up to 3 months.
When ready to cook, let the toast defrost overnight in the fridge. Pat the toast to remove any surface moisture, then fry away as below.
Shrimp toast make great snacks but can double as an hors d’oeuvre at a cocktail party alongside pork meatballs, pot stickers, and Peking mushroom pancakes. If you’re serving them as part of a larger Asian-themed meal, they make a great appetizer before main dishes such as stir-fried beef in garlic sauce, kung pao chicken, or Asian Sticky Ribs.
- For easier cleanup, soak or rinse your blender or mini-chop immediately after using. The mixture is very sticky and difficult to clean once it begins to dry.
- To make these ahead of time, prepare the shrimp toast recipe through step 5, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to fry. I find the chilled toast fry better than when at room temp.
- These are best enjoyed fresh, but leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 5 minutes.
- I don’t cut off the crusts for two reasons. First, it’s a waste of food! Second, the crusts, which are firmer than the soft middle, make it easier to spread the shrimp paste right to the very edge of the slices and reduce the chance of tearing the bread. If you’re undeterred and want to remove the crusts, cut them off before spreading on the shrimp mixture.
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- Blender or small mini chop
For the shrimp toast
- 3 scallions, roughly chopped, more for serving
- 10 sprigs cilantro, more for serving
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
- 10 ounces shrimp , roughly shopped
- 1 large egg white
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine, optional
- 4 slices white sandwich bread
- 1/2 cup white sesame seeds, or a mix of white and black sesame seeds
- 2 cups neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola
- Sweet and sour sauce or sweet chilli sauce, whichever you prefer
- Combine the scallions, cilantro, garlic, and ginger in a blender or mini-chop and blitz until finely chopped.
- Add the shrimp, egg white, soy sauce, cornstarch, and Shaoxing wine, if using, to the mini-chop and blitz until a paste forms.
- Scoop the mixture into a medium bowl.
- Spread 1/4 of the shrimp paste over each slice of bread. Make sure to spread the paste right to the edges to seal the toast. Carefully cut each slice into quarters on the diagonal.
- Pour the sesame seeds onto a small plate. Gingerly press the shrimp side of the bread into the seeds, making sure the sauce is completely covered.
- Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F (176°C) on a thermometer.
- Using a spatula, carefully lower several triangles of shrimp toast into the oil, shrimp side down. Fry for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, flip, and cook on the other side until golden brown, 1 minute more. Transfer the shrimp toast to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Transfer to a rack.
- Repeat with the remaining shrimp toast, allowing the oil to return to temperature between batches.
- Serve the shrimp toast with thinly sliced scallions, a few springs of cilantro, and your favorite dipping sauce on the side.
- Easier cleanup–Soak or rinse your blender or mini-chop immediately after using. The mixture is very sticky and difficult to clean once it begins to dry.
- Make ahead of time–To make these ahead of time, prepare the shrimp toast recipe through step 5, cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to fry.
- Removing the crusts–If you choose to cut off the crust, do so before spreading on the prawn paste.
- Storage and reheating–These are best enjoyed fresh, but leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 5 minutes.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This Chinese shrimp toast recipe was delicious and easy. I would make these again and again.
These really did turn out exactly like what you’d get in a restaurant. And they stayed crunchy for quite a while after cooking, so you can go ahead and cook a slew of them for a crowd.
This appetizer lived up to the description–easy to assemble, very tasty, and super crisp! I have never heard of shrimp toast before, so I had no point of reference and can’t verify if it’s in any way like the “restaurant icon” version, but I can attest to it being a crowd-pleaser!
It was a bit tedious to prepare, but it was in no way difficult. They cook up very quickly and can easily be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven. I served them with chili garlic dipping sauce, and they did indeed vanish!
The toasts came out of the fryer with a wonderfully crunchy texture thanks to the sesame seed crusts, and they were not oily at all. We served these with a sweet chili dipping sauce and one that was a bit more fiery. Both were a hit!