Dried shrimp are called udang kering in Singapore and Malaysia. Let’s find out more!
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
What are Dried Shrimp?
Dried shrimp are shrimp that have been sundried, resulting in a reduction in size but an increase in their flavour and aroma. Coveted in many cuisines around the world (and not just Asian cuisine) for their salty taste that screams umami, dried shrimp have a very strong aroma and flavour of the sea.
There are many different sizes and grades of dried shrimp, and their size also determines how they are prepared and which dish they are used in. The larger the dried shrimp, the higher the grade. However, that doesn’t mean that tiny dried shrimp are of poor quality, they are just used differently.
In Singapore and Malaysia
Dried shrimp are a must-have ingredient in East and South East Asian countries, whether that’s Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam or China.
In Singapore and Malaysia, they are most commonly used in our Malay, Eurasian and Nyonya dishes. You can read more about our ethnic groups on this page. Many of us would tend to call this ingredient by its Malay name, udang kering, whatever our ethnic background.
- Udang = Prawns/Shrimp
- Kering = Dried
- Dried Shrimp = udang kering
How to Buy Dried Shrimp (and Where)
Here in the UK, dried shrimp can be found in East Asian shops. I am lucky enough to have a Chinese grocer as well as a Korean supermarket practically on my doorstep, and between them, I find that I no longer have to shop online for East and South East Asian ingredients.
You’ll find dried shrimp in the fridge or freezer section of your local specialist shop. If you are in a Chinese grocer and need to ask for it, you may have better luck asking for hai mi or xia mi, the Mandarin names for it (simplified and traditional).
How to pick them? Look for brightly coloured yellow looking dried shrimp, without any signs of grey. The ones you see in the images on this post are the size of dried shrimp I’ve always used. They have a very strong flavour and if eaten whole, have a chewy texture.
I find these shrimp suit all my purposes, whatever recipe I’m making. If I need them smaller, all I do is run them in a chopper.
You can also get them online easily, if that is your thing (sure in mine!). This is the brand I use, found on Amazon (affiliate link).
How to Store Udang Kering
Kept cold, dried shrimp have a very good shelf life.
If you found them in the freezer section when you bought them, be sure to continue to store them in the freezer. If they were in the fridge, then I suggest you transfer them to a jar with an airtight lid and store them in the fridge. They will last a good 3 – 4 months if kept this way.
I tend to just store mine in the packet they were bought in, in my freeze. I take what I need, tie the packet up with a rubber band, and place it back in the freezer. Mind you, I use dried shrimp a lot, so that packet doesn’t stay in the freezer for more than a month.
How to Use Dried Shrimp
There are so many ways you can use dried shrimp, as an ingredient as well as a topping. As mentioned above, dried shrimp is used extensively throughout the world, from kitchens in Mexico to Louisiana to across the oceans to Indonesia.
It is a common ingredient in:
- curries, stews and gumbos
- fried rice
- stir-fried vegetables
- dumplings (tiny shrimp are perfect for this)
- in sambals and hot sauces
Dried Shrimp can be used whole or chopped, depending on the size as well as the recipe. Traditionally, they are soaked in hot water to soften, before being pounded and used. This also gets rid of some of the extra salt.
But if truth be told, if you are a fan of choppers (instead of pestle and mortar), you can skip the soaking part. And that saltiness is one of its prized attribute, so why lose it?
Here on SMR, so many of our recipes use dried shrimp in the base or spice paste, see gallery at the end of this post.
Substitute for Dried Shrimp
You’re not going to find the perfect substitute for dried shrimp. It is a highly concentrated ingredient, in terms of flavour, aroma and salt content. So when looking for substitutes, those are the characteristics you are going for in any udang kering substitute.
The best suggestion I can give you is dried shrimp, or belacan, in Malay. You can read more about belacan here.
As belacan is an even stronger ingredient, use half the amount of dried shrimp that the recipe calls for. So if your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon dried shrimp, and you are substituting it with shrimp paste, use half a tablespoon.
Incidentally, shrimp paste is easily available in our larger supermarkets in the UK; you’ll find it in Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tesco and on Ocado. Or get it online, this is the brand I use, found on Amazon (affiliate link).
As far as the whole fishy, salty and umami thing is concerned, fish sauce makes an okay substitute. It’s still missing a certain hint of sweet depth that you get with shrimp that have been dried. But beggars can’t be choosers and all that, if fish sauce is all you’ve got, it’ll do.
As far as amount goes, use like for like. So if your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of udang kering, you can sub it with 1 Tbsp of fish sauce.
Soy Sauce (a poor sub)
Soy sauce is a poor substitute for dried shrimp, but I wanted to mention it, as I get asked this question A LOT. You’re not getting any of the briny, sweet flavour and aroma of the sea. And nope, using kicap manis or sugar makes no difference. You are better off just using salt and cooking your recipe as is.
Shiitake (Vegan Substitute for Dried Shrimp)
For those of you who have taken my cooking classes on Udemy, you’ll know that my go-to vegan substitute for dried shrimp and shrimp paste is shiitake (mushrooms).
Fresh are best, just use about 5 shiitake for every tablespoon of udang kering that your recipe calls for.
Katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes, is an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cooking. With its smoky and fishy flavour, it’s bursting with umami notes, and to me, makes a great dried shrimp substitute.
Use like for like, in terms of amount.
Dried Shrimp Recipes
Here are just some examples of recipes on SMR that use udang kering. To find more, just do a search for dried shrimp at the top of this page.
As you can see in the images below, many Malay (and Indonesian) vegetable recipes are not vegetarian, for the simple reason that the spice paste almost always contains dried shrimp or shrimp paste, or both.
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How to use Dried Shrimp
- 1 Tbsp dried shrimp or as the recipe calls for
- hot water as needed
Soak the Dried Shrimp
- Put the kettle on and place the dried shrimp in a bowl.
- Pour very hot water over to completely submerge, 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.