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January 23, 2014



For many families, ukoy, sometimes spelled as okoy, is made with mung beans and colloquially known as togue. I’ve always known ukoy as made with green papaya, squash, and onions. With its anatto-colored batter, it’s a devious way to get carnivores to eat their greens. It looks like a big orange fried tasty blob with shrimp.

The preparation style shown here even allows for those with crustacean allergies to enjoy it, as the shrimp is added before frying. The vinegar sauce is a must though, as it adds the final touch to its delectable crunch.

When preparing the ukoy for frying, take care not to make them too thick, as the center can become undercooked. You want the outside to be crispy and the inside to be cooked through.

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 heads garlic
  • 1 ¾ cups white vinegar
  • pepper to taste, start with ½ teaspoon each
  • salt to taste, start with ½ teaspoon each

Sauce Procedure:

1.    Peel and mince garlic.

2.    Mix garlic together with vinegar, pepper, and salt.

3.    Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend together. Transfer to a serving dish. Prepare ukoy.

Ukoy Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon annatto seeds (atsuete) or ½ teaspoon annatto powder
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • ½ kilo fresh small shrimps
  • 1 kilo green papaya
  • ¾ kilo squash (kalabasa)
  • ½ kilo white onions
  • ¼ Tablespoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon monosodium glutamate, aka MSG (optional)
  • 1 ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ cup ice water
  • oil for frying


Ukoy Procedure:

  1. Prepare annatto water. Soak annatto seeds in ¼ cup boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain out the seeds. Set aside to allow to cool.
  2. De-beard the shrimps. Clean the shrimps, then cut off the first ⅓ of the shrimp’s head to remove its whiskers (more scientifically known as the shrimp’s antennae). If your shrimps are large-sized, you may need to remove up to ½ of the shrimp’s head. This removes the antennae, antennal spines, and antennal scales. The antennal spines and scales are sharp and can cause mouth injuries if left intact. If in doubt, cut off all the parts just before the shrimp’s eyes. Place cleaned shrimps in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Peel, deseed, and slice green papaya into manageable portions for shredding. Shred using the largest holes of your grater. Set aside.
  4. Peel, deseed, and slice squash into manageable portions for shredding. Shred using the same grater you used for the papaya. Set aside.
  5. Peel, cut in half, and thinly slice the white onions to the same thickness as the shredded papaya. If you have a mandolin, use it to get uniformly thin slices.
  6. In a bowl, mix together shredded papaya, squash, onions, salt, and MSG. Set aside.
  7. Mix together cornstarch and all purpose flour. Add cooled annatto water and mix until a paste forms. Make sure the remaining water is ice cold, then add to cornstarch-flour-annatto water mixture. Stir until water is incorporated.
  8. Add ¼ cup cornstarch-flour-annatto-water mixture to bowl of shrimps. Toss shrimps to lightly coat all the shrimps in the mixture. Set aside.
  9. Add remaining cornstarch-flour-annatto-water mixture to papaya-squash-onion mixture. Mix well to spread mixture evenly.
  10. Get a frying pan or heavy pot. Fill with oil until it is at least 1” deep. You can also use a fryer. When using a fryer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for frying.
  11. Heat oil to 350ºF or 180ºC. If you do not have a frying thermometer, use a wooden spoon to test for the correct temperature. Get a wooden spoon and immerse one end into the oil. The oil is at the correct temperature when bubbles form around it.
  12. Prepare a colander to drain excess oil from ukoy. Line the colander with paper towels. Place near the frying area for easy access.
  13. Assemble the ukoy. Get a small saucer. Line the saucer with some of the  papaya-squash-onion mixture. Add some shrimps on top, then lightly cover with additional  papaya-squash-onion mixture. Use at least 3 saucers so that you always have 2-3 pieces of ukoy assembled and ready to fry.
  14. Fry the ukoy in batches. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you can cook 2-3 pieces at a time. Using a spatula, slide the ukoy from the saucer to the frying pan. Fry on each side for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to prepared colander to drain.
  15. Repeat Steps 13-14 until all the mixture and shrimps have been cooked.
  16. Transfer ukoy to a serving dish. Serve with prepared vinegar sauce.

Photos by Louise Hagedorn


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