Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Grandma's Chiu Chow (Teochew) Deep Fried Shrimp Balls

Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Ball
Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls

This is a bittersweet post for me. It is also the reason I have reemerged from my blogging hiatus.

My 90-year-old paternal grandmother, whom we called Ah Ma, passed away three-and-a-half weeks ago. In addition to being sweet like grandmas can be, my memories of Ah Ma largely revolve around food. When I was younger, every time Ah Ma would cook a whole chicken for dinner she'd save me one of the legs because that was my favorite cut of the chicken. Even when she wasn't cooking, she would constantly ask if I was hungry and would practically force feed me regardless of what my answer was. Food was her way of showing love.

It makes sense though, of course, as Ah Ma was the chef in the family. Every time we visited her and Yeh Yeh (grandpa) for the holidays, she would cook up a feast of traditional dishes from their native Chiu Chow (Teochew) city in China. We're talking a specialty local cuisine that you can't order at typical Chinese restaurants! There was a variety of dishes she made, and embarrassingly I cannot remember most of them now, because as a kid there was only one dish that really mattered as far as I was concerned: Ah Ma's deep friend shrimp balls.

It wasn't just me though. Everybody else in the family loved those shrimp balls, too!

Back in 2009, perhaps sensing a need to preserve our family tradition, I asked Ah Ma to show me how to make her shrimp balls. I had posted the recipe on my old blog back then, but I have since made this myself a few times, and I can now present the improved version—a combination of Ah Ma's original recipe with my own tips and proportions added.

Since Ah Ma moved back to Hong Kong a few years ago (a place she had called home for several decades before moving to Canada in the 1990's), I have been the one who has taken on the responsibility of making Ah Ma's shrimp balls for my family's holiday gatherings. It is the one tradition that I really cherish, and hopefully I will get to pass it on to my own granddaughter someday.

  • 1 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled
  • 4 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and chopped, or about 6-8 chopped if using the canned variety (the larger the chopped pieces, the crunchier the shrimp balls will be)
  • ¼ lbs chuck ground pork (optional—I usually skip this as it is hard to find in my area)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 egg
  • ¼-½ tsp salt (depending on desired level of saltiness)
  • ¼-½ tsp white pepper
  • ¼-½ tsp chicken powder (Knorr brand Chicken broth mix or Lee Kum Kee brand Chicken bouillon powder)
  • Corn oil or vegetable oil (a lot)
  • ½ cup flour (I use all-purpose)


Mash shrimp using the flat part of a cleaver. That’s what my grandma would do anyway, but I have since discovered that processing the shrimp in a food processor makes the job a whole lot easier!

In a large bowl, combine the mashed shrimp, water chestnuts, ground pork, shallot, eggs, salt, pepper, and chicken powder. Mix well. My grandma would say to stir only in one direction (i.e., if you started stirring counterclockwise, do not reverse and stir clockwise), but I really don’t think it matters.

Add flour and mix to combine. Do not overmix.

Heat oil on high in a wok or a deep skillet. The amount of oil used depends on the size of your wok/skillet and the size of the shrimp balls. In general, use enough oil to cover half the diameter of the shrimp balls – for example, if your shrimp balls are 1” in diameter, then fill wok ½” deep with oil. Once the oil is boiling, reduce heat to medium high.

Mold the shrimp batter into rounded tablespoons. Dip a spoon into a small bowl of water before scooping the shrimp balls and placing it into the oil-filled wok (this prevents the shrimp balls from sticking to the spoon).* Alternatively (and this is what I do), use a 1½-inch melon baller or cookie scoop to make evenly spherical balls. Roll the shrimp balls around in the wok so they fry evenly on all sides. Fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drain shrimp balls before serving.

Shrimp balls are traditionally served with a tangerine sauce that is not available in North America. The closest store-bought sauce I have found is a golden plum sauce, though a sweet and sour sauce could possibly work as well. Nothing beats the real thing though! My dad got me a bottle of tangerine sauce from Hong Kong and it only has three ingredients so I'm going to see if I can make a homemade version. Will update if successful!

Yields about 24 shrimp balls.

*Ah Ma had this crazy cool technique of massaging and squeezing the shrimp mixture into perfect little round balls. I don't know how she did it because my attempts are never anywhere near the right shape (which is why I cheat by using a melon baller instead), but I'm glad I documented her kickass technique in a video:

Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Ball Batter
Shrimp batter (makes about 24)

Forming Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls with a Melon Baller
Using a melon baller to form the shrimp balls

Deep Frying Chiu Chow Shrimp Balls
Shrimp balls in the midst of deep frying

Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls
The finished product

Tangerine Sauce for Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls
Tangerine sauce served with shrimp balls