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Caramelized Shrimp with Garlic and Shallots

Caramelized Shrimp with Garlic and Shallots

This is a great recipe for home cooks who are short on time but happen to have frozen, deveined shrimp on hand. Get a pot cooking with rice, boil some greens in water seasoned with salt and oil (or peel and slice up fresh cucumbers and serve raw), cook this shrimp dish, and viola! Instant balanced meal.

The distinctive combination of caramelized sugar, fish sauce, and shallots as well as the use of raw herbs to finish the dish alerts you of this dish’s Vietnamese heritage. The cooking technique is clearly Chinese.


  • 2/3 lb raw medium or large shrimp
  • oil for high heat cooking (e.g. corn, canola)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 1/2 T brown sugar
  • 3/4 T to 1 T Vietnamese-style fish sauce (e.g. Tra Chang brand)
  • cilantro



Finely chop garlic and shallot. Wash cilantro and leave whole or chop into whatever length you want.

If your shrimp has not been deveined: Leaving shells on the raw shrimp, devein by laying shrimp down on cutting board, making a shallow cut through the shell on the back, removing only the black vein, and rinse. Drain shrimp in colander and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat wok or frying pan over high heat. Add oil and swirl or spread with silcone brush; you just need enough to coat the pan. Add garlic and shallot and stir fry 1 minute. Add shrimp and sugar and stir fry 1 minute. Add fish sauce and stir fry 1 minute. Turn off heat. Transfer to plate. Garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately.



  • Don’t overcook! This is the golden rule for cooking shrimp. The result should be shrimp that resists slightly when your teeth bite into it (al dente?), but should then helplessly give way to succulent flesh, bouncy and full of juice. If your shrimp tastes grainy or slightly tough, it’s overcooked. That’s OK! Just try again next time.
  • Use a good quality Vietnamese style fish sauce. (I use Tra Chang brand — look for the scale weighing fish on the label.) A good Vietnamese fish sauce will be balanced in flavor,  not hit you over the head with smell or salt, and will only contain fish, salt, and sugar as ingredients — nothing else. Reduce amount of fish sauce if you only have access to fish sauces intended for Thai or Pilipino markets (e.g. Squid, Tilapios); these brands are generally saltier and more brash and loud in flavor. (Vietnamese-style fish sauces sold in the U.S. are exported from Thailand, but they are *not* Thai style.)
  • If possible, use shrimp with their shells on. The flavor on the shells is quite nice. If you go this route, I suggest deveining (while leaving the shells on) or — better yet — buying a bag of shell-on, deveined shrimp. So far I’ve had good luck finding good quality shrimp without preservatives other than salt (ingredients should read: shrimp, salt) at Costco. For quality reasons, I choose shrimp from America (including locally raised here in Saipan) or Thailand.
  • Most people remove the shells from  the shrimp at the dinner table, but I prefer to  eat the shrimp, shells and all. More calcium, I say, not to mention a wonderful crunchy contrast to the succulent shrimp meat inside. 🙂
  • Best if cooked with unpeeled shrimp. You can use peeled shrimp, but appearance will be pale and bland looking. Shells give the dish the distinctive and appetizing orange shrimp color.
  • Don’t reduce the sugar and fish sauce. You can do it, of course, and the results likely will be acceptable. But using less sugar and fish sauce mean the flavors won’t “pop.”



Adapted from Mai Pham’s awesome cookbook, Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table.