Ukoy is the Filipino version of a shrimp fritter. Today we are headed to explore the cuisines of the South Pacific. Ukoy is known both in the Philippines and Palau. Not many people know where Palau is located unlike the more common island of the Philippines.
Palau (/pəˈlaʊ/ is an island country located in the western Pacific Ocean. The country contains approximately 340 islands, forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia. Palau shares maritime boundaries with the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Although Palau has its own cuisine and local foods such as cassava, taro, yam, potato, fish and pork, it is also heavily influenced by neighboring Philippines’ cuisine, notably on its Asian-Latin dishes. So it comes as no surprise ukoy is popular on both islands.
What is the origin of ukoy?
Believed to have originated in the province of Laguna, Philippines, okoy or ukoy is a simple yet very tasty Filipino dish and appetizer made from deep fried battered baby shrimp. The shell of the shrimp is left unpeeled as it enhances the flavor and crispiness of okoy. Filipino shrimp fritters have been a popular and famous street food in the Philippines usually peddled by mobile vendors or just being sold on the street corners and commonly served during merienda (mid afternoon snack) along with other Pinoy street delicacies. Ukoy comes from Hokkien ō+kuè ‘cake made from gabi’ and it is pronounced (ooh-coy).
What is ukoy?
Ukoy are crispy, deep fried shrimp fritters made with a pancake-like batter, unshelled shrimp and various vegetables, including calabasa (squash), sweet potato (camote), yuca, mung bean sprouts (tongue), scallions and julienned carrots, onions and green papaya. Although these shrimp fritters started as an afternoon snack in the Philippines, it has now evolved as a side dish served in many restaurants.
Traditionally, it is served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce; like sinamak (vinegar with labuyo chilis, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, and onion) or pinakurat (vinegar with fish sauce, labuyo chilis, peppercorns, ginger, garlic, and dried mangoes). But it can also be dipped in banana ketchup, tomato ketchup, sweet and sour sauces, or even garlic mayonnaise. They are eaten on their own or with white rice. They are popular anytime really. Okoy are sometimes dyed bright orange with annatto powder. The annatto powder is mainly for aesthetic purposes and does not add to flavor. Use more or less to achieve color desired.
The secret to a good ukoy is its texture. You can use any ingredient that you want as long as it is within the norm but it should come out extra crispy. There are several ways to cook ukoy. Some use whole small shrimps while others prefer to use the shelled ones. A variety of vegetables can be used in this dish, depending on the region or personal preference.
What are the variations of ukoy?
Just like the equally well-liked lumpia or spring rolls, these crunchy golden brown fritters are very easy to prepare and have many variations using a variety of other ingredients, including replacing the shrimp with small fish or calamari. Okoy batter can also be made with regular flour, rice flour, or an egg and cornstarch mixture. It can also refer to omelets made with mashed calabaza or sweet potato, with or without the shrimp. The dish can be modified easily to use other non-traditional ingredients, including potatoes, bell peppers, peppercorns, tokwa (tofu), grated coconut, and apulid (water chestnuts). A unique variant of the dish uses banana flowers (puso ng saging, literally “Banana heart”) cooked in batter.
How to make ukoy
Here are a few tips and trick on how to make the best ukoy.
– As they will cook congruently with bean sprouts which have short cook time, cut the carrots or squash into uniform size and slice as thinly as possible.
– For a crispy texture, use enough oil to cover the patties at least halfway. Optimal temperature of 350 to 375 F is crucial in frying! Too high and the ukoy will burn before sufficiently cooked through, too low and they will absorb more grease.
– Leave about 2 inches of space between the fritters as they will be flattened with a spatula to ensure even cooking. Do not overcrowd the pan, cook in batches as needed.
– To keep from falling apart, fry the fritters undisturbed for about 2 to 3 minutes until browned on the bottom and then flip with the spatula to continue to cook until browned and crispy.
Nowadays, okoy is not only synonymous to pantawid-gutom (quick half-filling snack) that was once only being offered in the streets but it has also gained a wide acceptance and shared a distinction in the menus of some high-end Filipino restaurants and bars that serve up shrimp fritters as starters/appetizers, pulutan (paired with beer) or even as part of the main courses dished up on sophisticated platters.
And that now you are craving for a plateful of ukoy. You can try it at home with our simple recipe and have fun in cooking and eating your ukoy!
- 10 oz. baby shrimps (shelled or not)
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- ¼ kalabasa squash (or kabocha squash), peeled, seeded and coarsely grated
- 1 egg , beaten
- ⅔ cup cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 shallots , peeled and minced
- 1 small scallion , chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground annatto
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- ½ cup vinegar
- 2 Thai red peppers , thinly sliced
- ½ red onion , peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic , peeled and pressed
In a bowl, whisk the egg, cornstarch, annatto, flour, water, fish sauce, salt and pepper until smooth and homogenous.
Add the squash, shallots and scallion to the mixture and mix.
In a large pan, heat about 2 inches of oil to a temperature of 350 F.
Place about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture on a skimmer, add 1 or 2 shrimps on it and lightly press.
Quickly slide the mixture into the hot oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side or until the fritter is golden and crisp.
Remove from pan and drain on a rack placed on a baking sheet.
Serve hot with a spicy vinegar sauce.
In a large bowl, combine the vinegar,Thai red pepper, onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.