I remember as a kid reading a book about how popcorn works: there were these little cartoons of a popcorn kernel with a little man inside, who got really angry when the kernel heated up and finally exploded. Now, I know it has something to do with the water inside the kernel becoming steam and expanding, and then the starch cooking … okay, honestly mostly I just think about an angry little man. Still, I don’t remember my kids ever asking how popcorn works — they’ve seen it so often that they probably don’t even think about it.
Shrimp chips are a snack that work on much the same principle, but the appearance is different enough that it made my kids really curious. You can sometimes buy these in a bag just like chips, but it’s more fun (and messy) to cook them yourself. You can find them at Asian markets under the name “shrimp chips” or “prawn crackers.” They start off looking like hard plastic chips — they remind me of Shrinky Dinks after shrinking. (Sometimes they’re just clear, or you may get these artificially colored versions.)
Pop them into a pan of hot oil, though, and they expand into something like this:
The water bound to the starch (from tapioca flour) expands and cooks the starch; the flavor (and name) comes from the shrimp. You do need to let the oil get pretty hot — before then, the chips just sizzle for a long time and you get this slightly thicker but very hard chip. When it’s hot enough, though, the chips curl up and expand, like watching Shrinky Dinks in reverse. (And then you’ll want to pull them out quick and let them de-grease on a paper towel before they burn.)
My younger daughter loves to eat these now, though my older daughter isn’t fond of the taste or smell. Speaking of which: don’t forget to open a few windows or turn on your oven vent, because otherwise your house will smell somewhat shrimpy for a while. And it should go without saying that when you’re dealing with hot oil on a stove, your kids should stand back. I had mine standing well away from the stove, on low stools so they could still see the pan.
My eight-year-old shot this video of the chips in action. (Apologies for the shaky camera work.) Bon appétit!