Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp, or Tom Rim, is a quick and easy side dish in a traditional Vietnamese home-cooked meal. It's a very simple dish of sweet and savory shrimp that goes wonderfully with steamed white rice.
You can choose to cook this dish with a bit of sauce or vaporize the sauce completely to allow the caramelization to really adhere to the shrimp. I prefer the latter as I think it provides the best flavor. I also like to let the caramelization go a bit further for a bit of charring on the outside. Nom!
The traditional way to make this dish is to use small shrimp (size 51-60) with shell and tail on. The shell and tail provides a nice crunch once caramelized. Sometimes I like to keep the head on so that the head fat can render into the sauce for a beautiful orange color. When it comes to eating, I’d separate the head from the body and suck on the head fat. It’s not the glamorous way to eat shrimp but it sure is tasty!
You may find that similar recipes call for annatto seed oil to brighten up the dish with a vibrant red color. For me, I forego annatto seed oil. I simply cook the shrimp a tad bit more for the sugar in the marinade to caramelize and darken. It saves me an extra pan to wash and I still get the same beautiful color.
I always say never to overcook your seafood. Overcooking squid, octopus, clams, shrimp and other seafood always result in a rubbery and chewy texture. However, this dish is an example of where I don’t mind overcooking. The shrimp in this dish isn’t meant to be succulent. It’s really just a crunchy vehicle for that awesome sweet and savory caramelized sauce. Save your money and buy the inexpensive small shrimp.
Enjoy the recipe below!
Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp (Tom Rim)
- 2 lbs shrimp (size 51-60 headless with peel-on and tail-on)
- 1 teaspoon salt for cleaning
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon mushroom/chicken/pork stock powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 5 garlic cloves (mince)
- 1 large shallot (mince)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 green onion (optional; slice into 1-inch segments)
- Devein the shrimp without peeling by using a toothpick. See pictures below.
- Clean the shrimp by adding shrimp and salt in a medium-size bowl. Massage salt into the shrimp then rinse and drain dry. This clean the shrimp and get rid of any fishy smell.
- Marinate the shrimp with fish sauce, stock powder sugar, MSG, black pepper, half of garlic and half of shallot for at least 30 minutes or overnight in fridge for best results.
- In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil on medium high. Add rest of garlic and shallot. Saute until fragrant (15-20 seconds). Add shrimp and all its marinade. Cook until liquid is mostly cooked off.
- Garnish with sliced green onions and a dash of black pepper. Serve with steamed rice.