Ukoy or Shrimp Fritter
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned about the Ukoy (ooh-coy). One of the Philippines lesser known street food here in the USA.
My fascination with Ukoy started as a simple story but later turned into this massive narrative of how Jimmy (my Father in-law) managed to put all his kids through college slinging these delicious bean sprout pancakes in NYC during the 70’s and 80’s. This was when they labeled it “Oriental Food” so that festival-goers would immediately understand what it was despite the antiquated/incorrect moniker.
Being hyper-interested in all things “food”, I went to work researching ingredients and best practices. I talked with Jimmy and some of the family. I went online to read various food / travel experiences. I had to experiment a few times with the batter consistency (which is the most important part) before I invited my Filipino in-laws over to try them. It was a success.
Ukoy Recipe Ingredients
Now the exact medley of veggies depends on who you talk to, which area of Philippines they’re from, but most often than not it’s just straight preference like most Filipino food.
I like the ratio in this ukoy recipe. I experience the right level of sweetness from the carrots, enough texture from the bean sprouts (since they are mostly filled with water) and that oniony taste of scallions.
I shred my carrots so they cook faster. If you don’t have a CuisinArt cut them into thin batons. Then grab a big handful of fresh bean sprouts (mung are good). I like a decent amount of onions so I generally grab about five to seven scallions and cut them into little discs. Don’t go too thin here. And lastly, enough small shrimp (cut in half length-wise) to put one in each ukoy. You can also use smaller bay shrimp and put in a few more.
Important: Once you have all the veggies cut, dump the batter over them and mix thoroughly with your gloved-hands. It should be sticky but not like dough. It’s Tempura-like. Imagine a watered down pancake mix but not as thick. Think Tempura batter meets pancake batter.
Now, the only part of this entire recipe that may elude you is the quick fry.
“Hey, My Ukoy Looks Wrong!” Type of Scenarios
Mine are way too dark and burnt? Your oil is too hot, too much sugar or you left them in too long.
They are too soft and gooey in the middle? You packed the Ukoy too tight, your oil is not hot enough, you are using too much batter, or the batter is too thick.
Mine fall apart in the oil! You either did not mix the batter properly, it is too thin or you just aren’t that gifted in the art of frying.
I don’t understand any of this..ahhhh. You are probably drunk and need to take a time out.
Tito Jimmy’s Ukoy Recipe
- 1 carrot
- 1 big handful of bean sprouts mung or soy
- 4 scallions
- 10 small shrimp
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 egg beaten
- 2/3 cup water
- 3 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 2-3 tsp. fish sauce I do 2 if I use dried shrimp
- 2 cloves garlic minced and then made into a paste with your knife
- You must either have a deep iron skillet, fry-daddy or a wok that can hold about 2-3 inches of peanut oil.
- Bring the peanut oil to about 330-360ºF degrees and hold it there. USE AN OIL THERMOMETER.
- Once you have the oil just right, shape the Ukoy mixture onto a metal Asian ladle/wire mesh. Sometimes I use a spatula and a metal ring/mold.
- Quickly slide the mixture into the hot oil.
- You only need about 1 minute on each side and then you are done.
Please dip them in a peppery, zingy vinegar like the classic Filipino “Tuba” vinegar. If you don’t have that, mix a small pour or rice vinegar and a spicy pepper with a little sugar should do the trick. Done and done. Enjoy this Filipino appetizer and share it with someone you love.