In the spring, I bought a little seedling of purple shiso, but now it’s going a bit crazy in the herb planter, so probably about time I was thinking of uses for it.
Shiso is a herb that’s common in Japanese and Korean cuisine, and I’ve also seen it used in some Vietnamese dishes too. It has a unique and distinct aroma all its own, reminiscent of basil and mint combined.
Flicking through a recent purchase, Japanese Soul Cooking, I found a recipe for Shrimp Shiso Gyoza. But frankly, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you might suspect that I have a borderline pathological need to mess with recipes. And you’d be right, as this is no exception.
So rather than go ahead and make what are no doubt lovely dumplings delicately flavoured with prawns and shiso, I’m instead going to slap the mix onto good old white bread and deep fry it, à la prawn toast!
Ah, prawn toast… a long time staple of takeaways and dim sum houses, it’s certainly not trendy nor particularly good for you, but it sure tastes good.
Of course, there’s a fine line between light crispy fried toasts and heavy, greasy slabs that drip grease down your chin when you bite into them. Yeah…I’m really selling it here. Tasty as they are, generic prawn toast can be a bit plain, particularly if they’re lacking in the prawn department.
So as well as a good layer of prawn mix and a herby note with the shiso, I’ve gone for the sesame variation, topping the toasts with a layer of crunchy, nutty sesame seeds. I’ve also upped the briny, marine element with a good dose of XO sauce. You can leave out the XO sauce if you like, or replace it with some finely chopped dried prawns for a more intense prawn/ seafood note.
While looking through a few recipes online, a couple of things did pique my interest. Firstly, I noticed that most of them add egg white to the mix. I assumed that this was to help bind the mixture, but I did wonder if it was to help to make the prawn filling lighter.
So I did a quick test of two types of prawn mix – one with no egg white, and one with beaten egg white folded through. The mix with the egg white is on the left:
The mix with egg white turned out to be softer and had more volume compared to the sans-egg white mix, which had a toothy density to it. I decided neither was “better” – I suppose it depends on what you’re going for with your toast. Like a heartier toast? Don’t beat your egg white, or leave it out completely. Prefer a softer, more mousse-like element? Fold in some beaten egg white and off you go.
I was also curious about was whether the thickness of the bread had any bearing on the final result. So I tried thin, medium and thick slices of bread, but actually the differences weren’t that huge.
While all three types were pretty similar in crispness, the problem with the thick-sliced bread was that the centre of the slice didn’t fry all the way through, so you’re left with chewy bits of bread in between the fried layers. Otherwise there wasn’t much between the thin and medium – the medium having a tiny bit more chew rather than crunchy all the way through. Surprisingly though the thick-sliced bread wasn’t as greasy as I thought it might have been.
So my preference is for a standard sized slice of white bread, which makes things easy. If you’re slicing your own bread, and want a particularly crispy toast, go for a thin slice…
Finally, playing off a tenuous link between shiso and Vietnamese food, I’ve opted to serve the prawn toast with a Vietnamese nuoc cham dipping sauce, thinking to accent the fish element as well as some sweet and sour to balance the oiliness of the fried bread. I mix my nuoc cham to taste, with less water for more intensity, but play around with the ratios till you get something you like. There’s plenty of recipes online, but Huy at Hungry Huy is a good reference if you’re looking for a place to start!
Recipe inspired by Shrimp Shiso Gyoza from Japanese Soul Cooking.