I am not a particularly religious person, but I religiously have a drink, or two, in the late afternoon, early evening. When I lived in Jakarta the call for evening prayer from the mosques around my house coincided nicely with my evening cocktail. Outside the mosques vendors sold various fried snacks such as tahu pong, kripik tempe, tahu isi, and kripik ubi (click here for a picture of a typical cart). I would often pick up something to have as part of my evening communion. It is the snack that tempers the evening cocktail; without it, one is merely drinking.
After what has been a ridiculously cool summer, the temperatures have finally climbed up to the century mark, with a high of 107º. This is the perfect weather to enjoy gin and tonics. So it was time to whip up some savory bites to enjoy with them.
Krupuk are tapioca based fried crackers that are usually made with fish or shrimp. The best shrimp ones come from Sidoarjo in East Java. The best fish ones come from Palembang in Sumatra. Ones made in Vietnam or China are of a coarser, inferior quality, with a higher ratio of tapioca to shrimp. You can find both the shrimp and fish krupuks in decent Asian markets here in the States. The shrimp crackers are hard, pale almond-colored plastic-like disks. The fish crackers look like coiled nests of white plastic spaghetti. After frying briefly in hot oil, the crackers puff and expand several times their original size, like those sponge animal capsules you can buy for children. The finished crackers are delightfully light and crisp.
You can also make your own krupuk. The process is surprisingly easy and you are assured of having the highest quality cracker. You can also tweak the basic recipe by adding your own flavors. I added kaffir lime to mine. There are several recipes on the internet, but they all more or less follow a 1 to 1 ratio of shrimp to tapioca flour/starch. I've tried the Kuali On-line recipe and the David Thompson one, and while I prefer the ease of the former, I liked the taste of the latter. My version is a kind of mash-up of the two.
Krupuk Udang--Prawn Crackers
250 grams raw, peeled, deveined shrimp, chopped
250 grams tapioca flour
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
2 TBS fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
water, as needed
oil for frying
In a mortar pound the garlic, salt and pepper to a smooth paste. Add chopped shrimp and pound until you have a sticky mass. Transfer to a bowl. (If you have a stand mixer, use it. I don't and mixing this by hand is quite labor intensive.) Stir the tapioca flour into the shrimp mixture. Add the fish sauce and sugar. Incorporate the flour and shrimp until you have a very homogeneous mass. Knead the mass until you have a firm, smooth, solid dough, a process that will probably take a good ten minutes. You're ready when, as Terri writes in her blog, the dough "feels like pressing your arm...soft yet firm." If too firm, add some water and knead some more.
Roll the dough into two six inch logs about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and steam for 30 minutes.
When the steamed logs have cooled, slice as thinly as possible. They should be translucent, no thicker than a nickel. I've tried slicing with a mandolin, but the nature of the dough makes this difficult. A deli-style meat slicer would probably be ideal, but a good sharp knife works well.
The coins of dough now must be dried several days. I simply dried mine out on the patio, but you could use a dehydrator I suppose. They must be thoroughly dried before frying to puff up correctly. Once dried, you can store them until you are ready to fry.
Fry the crackers several at a time in hot oil. The crackers will sort of curl and unfold in the oil, expanding as they do so. Each batch takes maybe 30 seconds or so. The cooked crackers can be stored in an airtight container for at least several days.
They can be enjoyed alone, or with dips. They are the perfect accompaniment to a tall, cool gin and tonic.