Recipe: Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Adapted from J. Steingarten.  Salt is the main flavouring, and binds the sweet juices of the shrimp to the surface of the shells, where they caramelise and take on the smoke-and-iron taste of the wok.  Serve with some rice.

  • 1 kg medium-large shrimp (14-16 per pound), shells on
  • 1 tablespoon salt (15 g) for cooking and 30 g for soaking
  • 4 cups peanut oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 serrano chili chopped fine, seeds and membrane removed
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 4 scallions, white part only, finely shredded

With a heavy scissors, cut all along the back of each shrimp through the shell and halfway down into the flesh; de-vein and rinse well under cold water, but do not remove the shell.  Soak the shrimp for 10 minutes in 1 teaspoon of the salt dissolved in 1 cup of cold water.  Drain and pat dry in paper towels without rinsing.

In a wok slowly bring the oil to about 400°F, just before it begins to smoke.  You can use half the oil and do two batches instead.  As the oil nears this point dust the shrimp with cornstarch through a sieve and toss to coat evenly.  Fry the shrimp for 1 minute, tumbling them into the oil.  Empty the contents of the wok into a large strainer set over a bowl to collect the oil.

Return ½ tablespoon of oil to the wok, heat, add the garlic and chopped pepper, cook for 10 seconds without browning, add the shrimp and the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, toss a few times, sprinkle with the dry sherry, toss, cover for 10 seconds, uncover, toss a few more times for about 10 seconds, remove to a serving plate, and garnish with the scallions.  Eat the shrimp with your fingers or with chopsticks, sucking the burnished salt and juices from the shells before discarding them.  Or you can eat the shells too if they are soft enough—they are good for you.

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