By JeanMarie Brownson, Special to Tribune Newspapers
A couple of times a month, we give in to powerful shrimp cravings. Our favorite indulgence: Salt-and-pepper shrimp from a local Chinese takeout restaurant. Large pink shrimp, fried just so, tossed with lots of salt, pepper and green chili. Irresistible as a nibble or as a main-course feast piled on rice. We could go for it right now.
As with any dish that captures our hearts, we knew we had to learn to make this at home. But a few rules applied to the finished dish before we would declare success: Better than takeout. Worth the dirty dishes. Less expensive.
So, the experimentation began. Research in Asian cookbooks revealed whole shrimp in the shell going into a deep fryer for this popular Cantonese dish.
Since deep-frying remains our least favorite cooking method, we decided to try shallow-frying small amounts at a time in a wok with a minimum of oil. Removing the shell made for less messy eating. To prevent oil from splattering, we patted the shrimp absolutely dry.
A sparse coating of cornstarch helped them crisp. The result? Super-plump, super-tender, drop-dead gorgeous shrimp.
For the seasonings, we opted for ordinary fresh black pepper (some recipes use Sichaun pepper), fine salt and a little sugar. Plenty of shallots and fresh jalapeno add crunch and a pleasant burn.
We're so enamored of the shrimp from this technique we created a sweet version with fresh pineapple, perfect for those who have grown out of the sweet and gloppy Asian main dishes we enjoyed as kids.
The recipe and the red chili pineapple variation double easily — just avoid the temptation to cook too many shrimp at once.
Serve this spicy shrimp as an appetizer with plenty of napkins and cold beverages. For a main course, pile it onto coconut rice. Then toss the take-out menus!
Some shrimp may come from places that are overfished or raised in ways that they are harmful to the environment.
When possible, buy shrimp farmed in the United States because we enforce strict environmental laws for the farmers that other countries do not.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium tells us that some U.S. shrimp farmers have even further reduced their impact on the environment by raising shrimp in fully recirculating systems or inland ponds, away from sensitive coastal habitats.
The easiest way to purchase shrimp responsibly is to shop at stores that provide origin information. Avoid shrimp that is not labeled adequately.
All shrimp are sold by size — how many shrimp per pound — even if they have a name such as colossal or jumbo. For a terrific treat in the recipe below, use the impressive 13 to 15 per pound shrimp. When using smaller shrimp, such as jumbos (16 to 20 per pound), or extra large (22 to 24 per pound), decrease the cooking time to prevent overcooking.
Salt-and-pepper shrimp with green chili
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Note: Anaheim, poblano or green bell pepper can be substituted for the jalapeno to reduce the kick.
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon each: sugar, freshly ground pepper
1 large or 2 small shallots, peeled, finely chopped (or 4 green onions)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeded, thinly sliced
1 pound colossal-size shrimp, 13 to 15 pieces, peeled, tail intact, deveined
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil or expeller-pressed canola oil
1. Mix salt, sugar and pepper in a small bowl. Mix shallots, garlic and jalapenos in another small bowl. Pat shrimp very dry with towel. Toss lightly in a bowl with the cornstarch.
2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed wok or small saucepan over medium-high heat until hot. (Dip the edge of a shrimp in the oil; it should bubble vigorously.) Add a quarter of the shrimp; continuously move them around in the oil with metal tongs or a wire strainer, until they turn pink, about 40 seconds. Remove to a plate to drain; repeat with remaining shrimp.
3. Very carefully pour the oil off into a heatproof container. Return 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil to the wok (or a large nonstick skillet). Heat over medium-high. Add the salt mixture; stir-fry 10 seconds. Add the shallot mixture; stir-fry 10 seconds. Add all the shrimp; stir-fry just until shrimp are tender, about 1 minute. Immediately remove from wok to serving platter. Serve hot.
Red chili pineapple shrimp:
Substitute 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes for the jalapeno and add it along with 1 cup fresh pineapple (cut into 1/2-inch dice) to the shallot-garlic mixture in step 1. Sprinkle finished dish with chopped fresh cilantro.
Per serving: 221 calories, 45% of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 172 mg cholesterol, 6 g carbohydrates, 24 g protein, 752 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
In a rice cooker, place 2 cups medium-grain rice, 1 can (14 ounces) low-fat unsweetened coconut milk and 3/4 cup water; cook according to manufacturer's directions. Alternatively, simmer over very low heat in a small, heavy-duty saucepan, covered tightly, until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat: let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
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