Vietnamese Shrimp and Sweet Potato Cakes


Photo by Gisele Perez

Photo by Gisele Perez

The Vietnamese is one of the latest groups to arrive in New Orleans and contribute to the city’s vibrant culinary scene. Arriving in the 1970s after the fall of Saigon, the Gulf Coast of Louisiana was an ideal place for the refugees to relocate. Like Louisiana, Vietnam had been a French colony for many years. Many of those who came to the Gulf Coast from Vietnam were Roman Catholic, and of course, the countries shared a very similar terrain, consisting of river delta regions and coastal lowlands.

Those similarities of colonial past and topography allowed for some similarities in food tastes, as well. The Vietnamese make up a large part of the shrimping and fishing  community along the Gulf Coast. Their diet is rice based, as is the diet of New Orleanians, and additionally, the Vietnamese happen be excellent fryers, and to bake some of the best French bread in New Orleans. Currently in the city, there is a resurgence of Vietnamese restaurants, with a younger generation of Vietnamese chefs redefining traditional Vietnamese cuisine. All welcome news to this LA2LA chef, who’s fallen in love with the herbaceously fragrant and slightly spicy Vietnamese cuisine.

These Sweet Potato and Shrimp Cakes combine two favorite foods of New Orleanians into one delicious treat.

Vietnamese Shrimp and Sweet Potato Cakes

These shrimp cakes are served with a mixed vegetable and herb platter. The cakes are wrapped in a lettuce leaf along with a selection of the herbs and vegetables (like a sort of taco) and a drizzle of the fish sauce, to eat.

  • 3/4 cup sifted cake flour
  • 1/2 cup of rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, or mild curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces ice cold water
  • 6 ounces shrimp finely minced
  • 16 -18 medium whole peeled shrimp with tail on
  • 1 medium large sweet potato, about 9-10 ounces, finely julienned
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • About 1/4 cup of Fish Sauce*

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, corn starch, baking powder, sugar and turmeric or curry powder. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the cold water, whisking very gently until smooth. The batter should have the consistency of a thick cream. Refrigerate the batter while preparing the rest of the recipe.

2. Peel the sweet potato, and cut into thin strips using a mandoline or Japanese Benriner.

3. Add the sweet potato, scallions, ginger, half the garlic, and the minced shrimp to the batter.

4. In a heavy skillet, heat about 1 inch of oil until hot. Test the readiness of the oil by dropping in a tiny bit of the batter. When it quickly rises to the top.

5. For each cake, spoon about 2 tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Working quickly, lightly press a whole shrimp into the center, then pour another tablespoon of the batter on top of the shrimp. Fry the cakes a couple at a time, for 1- 2 minutes, then using 2 forks, carefully turn them over, and cook for another 2 minutes or so. When they are golden brown, transfer them to a paper towel lined plate to drain.The fried cakes may be held in a low oven while you finish frying the remainder of the cakes, but they should be served as quickly as possible when finished frying.

6. Add the remaining garlic to the fish sauce, and serve the cakes with the fish sauce and vegetable platter.

* Some fish sauce brands are stronger and saltier than others. It’s perfectly all right to dilute it with a little water, to suit your taste.

  • Several leaves of bibb or red leaf lettuce
  • Garlic chives or scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths
  • A small bunch each of cilantro, mint sprigs and Thai or purple basil**
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled in alternating strips, halved lengthwise, and sliced thinly across
  • 3-4 ounces fresh bean sprouts

** If you can’t find either of these regular sweet basil will do.

Yield: 16-18 2-inch cakes

Bon appetit!


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