Dried shrimp is an ingredient that is found in so many dishes in South East Asia.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
What are Dried Shrimp?
Dried shrimp are shrimp that have been dried in the sun, resulting in a concentrated flavour and aroma, with a chewy texture, if eaten whole. You will find them used in many cuisines around the world, across the oceans.
I grew up calling them udang kering, which is what they are known as in the Malay language. There are some foods and ingredients in Singapore and Malaysia that are commonly known in one of our languages by most of the ethnic groups, dried shrimp being the perfect example.
- Udang = Prawns/Shrimp
- Kering = Dried
- Dried Shrimp = udang kering
Dried shrimp are a must-have ingredient in East and South East Asian countries, whether that’s Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam or China.
How to Use Dried Shrimp
They are graded according to size, which to a large extent, determines how they are prepared and used. The larger the shrimp, the higher the grade. But that doesn’t mean that the tiny ones are of poor quality, they are just used differently. And unlike the slightly bigger ones, tiny shrimp have their shells left on.
You can use udang kering in so many different ways. In South East Asia, it is used an an ingredient. More often than not, you’ll find it ground up in the spice paste for a recipe, like in Laksa or in salad dressings like Thai Green Papaya Salad. However to all you Thai food lovers, you’ll recognise it as the floss topping on Pad Thai.
It is commonly used in:
- curries, stews and gumbos
- flavoured rice like fried rice and nasi ulam
- noodles, both fried and in sauce like mee siam
- stir-fries like kangkung belacan
- in hot sauces and chilli pastes
In South East Asian recipes, dried shrimp is often used chopped or ground. However, this does depend on the size as well as the recipe. Traditionally, they are soaked in hot water to soften, before being ground up or pounded.
Here on LinsFood and my other blog, Singaporean and Malaysian Recipes, so many of our recipes use udang kering in the base or spice paste.
How to Buy Dried Shrimp (and Where)
They can be found in East and South East Asian shops here in the UK. The same applies to the US, Canada and Australia. You’ll find them in the fridge or freezer section of your local specialist shop. If you are in a Chinese grocer and are having language problems, ask for hai mi or xia mi.
I’ve never come across dried shrimp that have gone bad. But to be on the safe side, always look for brightly coloured, shrimp that are yellow-orange in colour, without any signs of grey.
You can, naturally, also get it online easily, if that is your thing (sure is mine!). This is the brand I use on Amazon (affiliate link).
How to Store Udang Kering
Dried shrimp have a very good shelf life, but they do need to be kept in the fridge or freezer.
If you bought them in the freezer section, then be sure to store them in the freezer at home. Dried shrimp that were store in the fridge in your local shop are best stored in an airtight container in the fridge (or freeze them). They will easily 3 – 4 months in the fridge.
In the freezer, you can store your dried shrimp up to 6 months. I find that they start to lose a little flavour and aroma after this time.
Dried Shrimp Substitute
You won’t find an exact substitute for dried shrimp; fresh is just not going to cut it. In terms of aroma, flavour and salt, it’s a highly concentrated ingredient. So when looking for an udang kering substitute, those are the characteristics you want to be looking for.
The best substitute, although not perfect, for dried shrimp is shrimp paste. Called belacan in Malay, terasi in Indonesian and kapi in Thai, this is another essential South East Asian ingredient. You can read more about shrimp paste here.
Belacan is an even stronger ingredient, so you only need half the amount of dried shrimp that your recipe calls for. So if your recipe states 1 tablespoon dried shrimp, and you are substituting it with shrimp paste, use just half a tablespoon instead.
While dried shrimp can only be found in East and South East Asian stores here in the UK, shrimp paste is easily available in our larger supermarkets like Waitrose, Sainsburys and Tesco. Or get it online, this is the brand I use, found on Amazon (affiliate link).
Fish sauce makes a fairly good substitute, even if it’s missing a certain hint of sweet and briny depth. But if fish sauce is all you’ve got, it’ll do.
Use the same amount as a substitute. So if your recipe asks for 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp, substitute it with 1 Tbsp of fish sauce.
Soy sauce is a poor substitute, you’re not getting any of the saltwater, sweet flavour and aroma of the sea. You are better off just using salt in your recipe if you don’t have either of the above substitutes.
Shiitake (Vegan Substitute for Dried Shrimp)
If you’ve been a long time follower of LinsFood, you’ll know that my vegan substitute for dried shrimp and shrimp paste is shiitake (mushrooms). Shiitake is the perfect vegan umami ingredient.
Fresh ones are best, use about 5 shiitake for 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp.
Dried Shrimp Recipes on LinsFood
How to use Dried Shrimp
- kettle for hot water
- bowl for soaking the dried shrimp
- pestle and mortar if you're a traditionalist
- small chopper
- Tbsp dried shrimp or more as your recipe calls for
- hot water, enough to cover the shrimp
Soak the Dried Shrimp
- Put the kettle on and place the dried shrimp in a bowl.
Pour very hot water over the dried shrimp to completely submerge them. Cover, and leave to soak for 10 minutes.
Follow the instructions as in your recipe, but a general guide is: If using as part of a spice paste, just drain the soaked shrimp (no need to rinse) and add to the chopper or mortar and chop or pound away to get your paste.
Some recipes call for the shrimp to be pounded to a coarse state. You can do this with a pestle and mortar, or use a chopper, like I prefer.
If you want to use the dried shrimp as a garnish or topping, place them in a chopper and pulse until they are shredded and resemble floss.