What is it?
Popcorn shrimp started life down Louisiana way as little golden nuggets of deep-fried crawfish tails. The locals called them Cajun popcorn because they were so moreish you could eat them by the handful. Legendary Creole and Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans put popcorn shrimp on the map in the 1980s, and Nobu Matsuhisa of the global restaurant empire Nobu did it again in the 1990s by swapping to a light tempura batter and tossing them in spicy, creamy mayonnaise.
Where is it?
They're a fixture on the menu of Sake Restaurant & Bar in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, tossed with spicy mayonnaise and citrussy yuzu juice. Chef Shaun Presland says he can make popcorn shrimp in his sleep.
''People go nuts for it,'' he says. ''There would be a popcorn revolution if we took it off the menu.''
Popcorn shrimp also pops up tucked into tacos and po' boys at Bondi's Panama House, and at Kenji at Opera Kitchen, where it is served with spicy jalapeno sauce.
Why do I care?
Because it's a cool thing to serve with drinks on Melbourne Cup day, near Christmas, or any time. Just make sure you make more than you think you'll need; it has strangely powerful addictive qualities.
Can I do it at home?
If you can cook potato chips, you can cook popcorn shrimp. Tip: at Nobu, the little nuggets are tossed in spicy mayonnaise, but they keep their crunch better if served separately. And those crunchy little bits of batter that float off while frying are worth serving as well.
16 medium raw prawns, shelled
110g plain flour, plus 1 tbsp extra
200ml iced water
1 tsp chilli sauce
50ml whole-egg mayonnaise
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp mirin
750ml vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 egg yolk
1 tsp sea salt
1 sheet nori, toasted and cut into strips
1 lime, quartered
1. Cut each prawn into three or four pieces, depending on size, and pat dry. Toss in 1 tablespoon of flour. Drop ice cubes into the water to keep it chilled.
2. Whisk the chilli sauce, mayonnaise, rice vinegar and mirin together until smooth.
3. Heat the oil to 180C or until a drop of batter crisps without browning.
4. To make the tempura batter, mix the egg yolk and iced water lightly in a bowl. Dump the flour into the bowl and mix lightly with chopsticks, leaving it rough and lumpy (this may sound weird, but it is a classic tempura technique). Working in small batches, coat the prawns in the batter and fry for 2 minutes or until lightly golden. Drain well on paper towel, scatter with sea salt and serve immediately with nori strips, spicy mayonnaise and lime wedges.
Serves 4 as an appetiser
Sake Restaurant & Bar
12 Argyle Street, The Rocks, 9259 5656
251 Bondi Road, Bondi, 9365 0839
Kenji at Opera Kitchen
Lower Concourse Level, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, 9247 0480
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