I’ve been on a major Chinese food streak lately. Hunan shrimp is my third Chinese recipe this week and I am enjoying the food immensely. I had never tried Hunan shrimp before so I didn’t really know what to expect. The description in the Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking book sounded good so I decided to go for it. The best way to describe how the dish turned out is to quote what my 7-year-old said after she tried one shrimp: ‘Daddy, I am definitely coming back for seconds’. This recipe is a definite keeper.
Similar to Hunan beef, hunan shrimp rely on use of hot chili peppers. Except in this recipe we will be using hot chili oil along with the red pepper flakes used to make it, instead of the chiles themselves. This reminds me of the Szechuan Chicken I made a few days ago which also used hot chile oil. The chefs of Hunan love using hot oils and do it very skillfully. Hot oils and hot peppers not only provide heat, but also season, balance, and complement the dish. The pepper flakes used to make the hot oils are even more intensely flavored than the oils.
While I used the original recipe mostly as is, I did make one important change. I removed most of the peanut oil that used for ‘shallow frying’ of the shrimp, similar to what I did in the Hunan Beef recipe. In the original Hunan shrimp recipe all of the frying oil is mixed in with the shrimp sauce, perhaps mistakenly. I felt like that would result in the shrimp being way too oily. Glad I made the change and had no regrets whatsoever.
Alternatively, in an attempt to make the dish lighter and healthier, I tried stir-frying the shrimp with just three tablespoons of oil, no ‘shallow frying’. It turned out different, more gloppy, but definitely great tasting. I would call this my favorite method without hesitation.
Interestingly, the shrimp sauce uses ketchup as a base. Is this what Hunan chefs would use too? Sounds doubtful to me, but the sauce tasted great. I’d love to make the real thing some day, but for now this sauce will work just fine. It’s delicious.
Hunan Shrimp (Hot and Spicy)
- 1 lb large shrimp (peeled, leaving the tail segments intact, and de-veined)
- 1 cup peanut oil (for frying)
- 6 shallots (thinly sliced)
- 1 Tbsp minced ginger
- 3 large garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
For the shrimp coating:
- 1 egg white (lightly beaten)
- 2 Tbsp peanut oil
- 1 Tbsp mung bean starch
- 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sea or kosher salt
- A pinch of white pepper
For the sauce:
- 5 Tbsp ketchup
- 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tsp white rice vinegar
- 1 tsp hot pepper oil with pepper flakes (see my Szechuan Chicken recipe for details, for mild spiciness, plus more to taste)
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt (or sea salt)
- Begin by mixing all of the shrimp coating ingredients in a medium size bowl. Add the shrimp, toss or mix by hand to coat. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by mixing all of the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Heat a cup of peanut oil in a wok over high heat to about 300F. Add the shrimp, spreading them evenly across the bottom in one layer. Fry for 1 minute, until the shrimp starts to turn pink, flip the shrimp and continue cooking for another minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp from the wok and place on a paper towel lined plate to remove excess oil. You may want to do this step in two batches as it will be much easier.
- Pour off the oil form the wok, leaving 3 tablespoons behind.Turn the heat to high. Add the garlic, the ginger and stir briefly. Add the shallots, stir briefly and lower the heat to medium. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the shallots are nicely caramelized and soft.
- Return the heat back to high and add the shrimp. Drizzle the wine over the shrimp and mix well. Stir the sauce, pour it over the shrimp and mix well. Stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes, or until the shrimp are well-coated and the sauce begins to bubble.
- This is not the traditional Hunan shrimp preparation method that I know of, but I really like the results. Instead of shallow frying the shrimp, we will stir-fry them with just a little bit of oil. In a wok, heat three tablespoons of oil over high heat. Just as you see a whiff of smoke, add the garlic and the ginger and stir briefly. Add the shallots, stir briefly and lower the heat to medium. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the shallots are nicely caramelized and soft.
- Turn the heat back to high, add the shrimp, arranging them in a single layer. Cook for about 1 minute then flip and continue cooking for another minute or so, until the shrimp is pink on both sides.
- Drizzle the wine over the shrimp and mix well. Stir in the sauce, pour it over the shrimp and mix well. Stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes, or until the shrimp are well-coated and the sauce begins to bubble.
Final step for both methods
Remove the shrimp from heat, transfer to a heated dish, and serve immediately with steamed rice or vegetables.
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