Pupu platters originated in America in the 1930s at California restaurants, and they’re still on the menu in many Chinese restaurants. While the food is meant to be an amalgam of Polynesian flavors, it generally consists of Americanized Cantonese and Japanese food. Surely nothing like crab Rangoon ever existed in Burma or even Polynesia.
Once a mainstay of the pupu platter, crab Rangoon isn’t as popular as it used to be, perhaps because it must be deep-fried to appreciate it in its crispy-creamy-crabby glory. And newer, baked versions just aren’t the same. Same goes for golden brown coconut shrimp, in that there’s only one way they can be made: deep-fried.
Any compartmentalized appetizer server would do the trick, although a pupu platter–a wooden bowl with compartments for the separate appetizers, from the Hawaiian word pupu, which means a relish or appetizer–will add some ’60s sass to your party. The platter usually has a hole in the center to hold a small hibachi grill, though not all pupu recipes require tableside cooking. Ideally, the pupu platter should be served around an assortment of tiki statues.–Rick Rodgers and Heather Maclean
LC Pupu Platter Potential Note
“It was the height of chic to have pupu platters in the ’60s,” David said recently, a note of giddy nostalgia in his voice. “Still is.” While David was regaling us with tales of ordering pupu platters almost every week with his friends, it occurred to us that there’s a plethora of recipes with pupu platter potential. Yet when we think of that groovy ’60s staple, we’re hard-pressed to come up with more than just two recipes, classics through and through: Crab Rangoon and Coconut Shrimp.
As for what to sip on the side, may we suggest something equally inspired by the ’60’s, whether the Mai Tai or the Blue Hawaiian. Should you prefer something sans paper cocktail umbrella, there’s always the classic Manhattan.
For the crab Rangoon
- 4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 scallion white and green parts, minced
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 4 ounces crabmeat picked over and cartilage or shells removed
- Store-bought or homemade hot red pepper sauce to taste
- Cornstarch for dusting
- 24 wonton squares (half a 12-ounce package)
- 1 large egg white beaten with a pinch of salt until foamy
- Vegetable oil for frying
For the coconut shrimp
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 cup club soda
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 24 large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 1/4 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut (a word of warning: don’t try to use sweetened flaked coconut as its sugary coating burns quickly in hot oil)
For the pupu platter
- Duck sauce in packets from your local Chinese joint or in a jar from an Asian grocery store
- Hot Chinese mustard in packets from your local Chinese joint or homemade (recipe follows)
Make the crab Rangoon
- Mash the cream cheese, soy sauce, scallion, and garlic together in a bowl with a rubber spatula. Stir in the crabmeat and season with the hot red pepper sauce.
- Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and lightly dust it with cornstarch. Place a wonton in front of you, rotating it so it’s shaped like a diamond. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the center of the lower half of the wonton, brush the edges of the wonton with a little egg white, then fold the top of the wonton down over the filling to form a triangle. Press the center of the wonton gently to flatten the filling slightly, then press the edges of the wonton to seal. Hold the triangle in your hands. Bring the lower two tips of the triangle across the bulge in the center of the Rangoon to meet, overlapping the tips slightly, sort of as if the rangoon was wrapping its arms around itself and giving itself a hug. Seal the tips with a dab of egg white. Place the rangoon on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filling and wontons. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fry (or up to 2 hours).
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C).
- Pour enough oil into a deep, heavy saucepan to fill it halfway up the sides. Place the pan over medium-high heat and wait until the oil registers 350°F (176°C) on a deep-frying thermometer. Line a baking sheet with a brown paper bag cut open. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add a few of the wontons to the oil and deep-fry, turning them as needed, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a wire spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the RRangoons to the brown paper-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you repeat with the remaining rangoons.
Make the coconut shrimp
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and egg together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the club soda. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Line a second baking sheet with a brown paper bag.
- Pour enough oil into a deep, heavy saucepan to fill it halfway up the sides. Heat over high heat to 350°F (176°C) on a deep-frying thermometer. (If the oil from the Rangoons is clear and not flecked with burnt wonton bits, you can re-use it for the shrimp.) Spread the coconut on a plate.
- Working with one shrimp at a time, hold it by the tail and dip it into the batter, letting any excess batter drip into the bowl. Roll the shrimp in the coconut until it’s completely coated. Place the shrimp on the waxed paper-lined baking sheet.
- Working in batches to avoid crowding, add some of the shrimp to the hot oil and deep-fry until golden brown, about 2 1/2 minutes. Using a wire spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the brown paper-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while frying the remaining shrimp.
Assemble the pupu platter
- Transfer the Rangoons and shrimp to a serving platter and serve warm with little dishes (or little packets) of duck sauce and hot Chinese mustard on the side.
Hot Chinese MustardTo make the hot mustard, dump 1/2 cup mustard powder, such as Colman’s, in a small bowl and whisk to break up any lumps. Whisk in as much boiling water as needed to achieve the desired consistency, starting with about 1/3 cup and adding more hot water as needed in tablespoon increments. Let stand, uncovered, for at least 1 hour before serving. (The mustard can be refrigerated in a resealable container for up to 5 days.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Loved the flavor and texture of the coconut shrimp. This was a big hit as I made it for a cocktail evening. I skewered each shrimp after frying and inserted the skewers into a large pineapple. The mustard sauce and the duck sauce were perfect complements to the dish.
Upon first reading the instructions on filling the wontons for the Crab Rangoon, I was a bit confused, but after I had my daughter read them and watched her fill and fold one, it became clear. It’s nice to have someone help with the filling and folding, and it’s a good, fun family project. We made them ahead of time and put them in the fridge as suggested, then when we were ready to eat, we fried them in batches. They are best eaten fairly soon after frying, as they toughen up after sitting a bit. They were good with both the duck sauce that my sister had (in packets left over from Chinese takeout) and the homemade hot Chinese mustard. Beware, because the mustard is really HOT, a little dab will do most. Even my daughter who likes hot stuff thought a drop was all you needed. Who’d have though making your own Hot Chinese Mustard would be so easy. This stuff is delicious.
This appetizer takes me back to a classic LA restaurant from the 60′s, or maybe 70′s, Madame Wu’s. A very similar recipe was in her cookbook, and I made it all the time when I was playing with a deep fryer. Give it a try. It’s a fun retro appetizer that goes great with Mai Tais.
Originally published March 19, 2012