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This Chinese salt and pepper shrimp is a savory-spicy joy

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There’s probably no recipe that better showcases salt and pepper working in multiple ways and together than Chinese salt and pepper shrimp, an enticing dish of plump, moist fried shrimp with shells as shatteringly crispy—and appealing to eat—as fried chicken skin, and a killer savory-spicy flavour profile.

A quick salt-rice wine soak improved the shrimp’s texture, plumping them, as well as contributing flavour; the Sichuan peppercorns gave the dish sparkling spice and aromatic piquancy, while black peppercorns provided a straightforward hit of heat.

We added the black peppercorns and Sichuan peppercorns along with cayenne and sugar to the coating and then fried more of the same with ginger and garlic to make a flavourful paste that we tossed the fried shrimp in for great depth. For an extra jolt of spiciness, we also fried a couple of thinly sliced jalapeños.

We like to use frozen shrimp; thaw them overnight in the fridge or under running cold water and blot them dry. Use a Dutch oven that holds 6 quarts or more for this recipe. Serve with steamed white rice.

CRISPY SALT AND PEPPER SHRIMP

Servings: 4-6

Start to finish: 1 hour

1 1/2 pounds shell-on medium-large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound)

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

Kosher salt

2 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns, coarsely ground

2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, coarsely ground

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 cups vegetable oil

5 tablespoons cornstarch

2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and sliced into 1/8 inch-thick rings

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 scallions, sliced thin on bias

Shredded iceberg lettuce

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 225 F. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and line large plate with triple layer of paper towels. Toss shrimp with rice wine and 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Combine black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, sugar, and cayenne in small bowl.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until oil registers 385 F. Meanwhile, drain shrimp and pat dry with paper towels; wipe bowl dry with paper towels. Transfer shrimp to now-empty bowl, add 3 tablespoons cornstarch and 1 tablespoon peppercorn mixture, and toss until well coated.

Carefully add one-third of shrimp to hot oil and fry, stirring occasionally to keep shrimp from sticking together, until light brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 375 F and 385 F. Using wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to prepared plate and let drain briefly. Transfer shrimp to prepared rack and keep warm in oven. Return oil to 385 F and repeat frying shrimp in 2 more batches, re-tossing each batch thoroughly with coating mixture before frying. Line plate with clean paper towels as needed.

Return oil to 385 F. Toss jalapeno rings with remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch in separate bowl. Shake off excess cornstarch, then carefully add jalapeño rings to oil and fry until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer jalapeno rings to prepared plate. After frying, reserve 2 tablespoons frying oil.

Heat reserved oil in 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic, ginger, and remaining peppercorn mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is fragrant and just beginning to brown, about 45 seconds. Add shrimp, scallions, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss to coat. Line serving platter with shredded lettuce. Arrange shrimp on platter and sprinkle with jalapeno rings. Serve immediately.

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