Salt and Pepper shrimp is an addictive dish of deep-fried crispy shrimp, spicy peppers, salt, and ground pepper. One which can be made with no special skills or equipment or nuthin'. Just regular stuff from the supermarket. Many Chinese dishes call for ingredients that are often hard-to-find. This ain't one of them.
If you google recipes for this dish, you'll see many variations on the same theme. Some call for a flour-based batter. Some call for egg whites to help the cornstarch stick. I'm sure they all have their benefits, but I couldn't rationalize the extra work. I knew exactly what I wanted this dish to taste like, since I've had it many, many times at various restaurants, so I didn't need to use any specific recipe. I googled recipes purely for confirmation bias purposes. i.e., tell me what I plan on doing is right.
A quick deep-fry of cornstarch coated shrimp yields a stupid-crunchy creature. An even quicker stir-fry of some garlic and scallions and hot peppers, along with salt, white pepper, and Sichuan peppercorn (if you have it), and you're done. This dish takes about 5 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of active cooking time.
Here's what I do...
Ingredients for two servings
- 1 lb shell-on shrimp (head-on is better, if you're into head)
- 1/4 C cornstarch
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced (garlic isn't an important part of the flavor profile of this dish, but we liked it)
- 1 T ground white pepper (grind whole peppercorns, just as you do with black pepper)
- 1 T ground black pepper
- 2 t sugar
- 2 t salt
- 10 or 12 Sichuan peppercorns, ground (optional, but they add a lot of zing)
- 6 or more scallions, sliced on the bias
- any amount of chopped fresh hot chilis that you want
- 1 T chopped cilantro stems (optional, but I like the added herbaceousness and texture)
- cilantro for garnish
- chopped iceberg lettuce
- Cut the shells of the shrimp down the back and clean the nasty stuff out
- Wash and dry well
- Coat the shrimp with the cornstarch
- Whiz together the all of the peppercorns and the salt in a grinder. I think it's important to grind the salt, as it turns powdery, which helps coat all of the ingredients
- Deep fry the shrimp, in batches if necessary, in oil at 375 degrees
- Remove the shrimp and all but 1 T of the shrimpy oil
- Add garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds, until it just starts taking color
- Add the scallions and hot peppers and stir-fry for a few seconds until they start to soften
- Put the shrimp back into the wok
- Add the salt/white pepper/black pepper/Sichuan peppercorn/sugar and cilantro stems and toss until it's all coated with the spices (you may not to use all of it...go by taste, as always)
- Serve over top the shredded lettuce and garnish with cilantro
The iceberg may seem like an uninspired choice. But, it adds crunch, breaks down just slightly, and becomes some of the best iceberg you've ever had. You could add cucumber, or any vegetable for that matter, if you want more green things.
And remember: you can and should eat the shells!
You can get Sichuan peppercorns online, or right at Amazon.com. I generally buy shrimp at Peter's Fish Market in Midland Park, NJ, and I do like the wild shrimp that Fairway Market carries. Feel free to use scallops or any damned fish you want!
I hope you make this and tell me how you did it and how you liked it. If you're like me, you'll make it two nights in a row. Round two tonight!