Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shrimp with Spicy Salt (椒盐虾)

It looks just like the 椒盐虾 in restaurants.
It tastes just like the 椒盐虾 in restaurants.
But what is different?
It is a fraction of the cost in restaurants, and you can enjoy it at home whenever you want!  =)

This dish is actually quite simple.
For the shrimp, you can purchase it anytime at the store (stock up when it's on sale!), and store it in the freezer.  Did you know shrimp stores very well in the freezer, because its shell prevents the shrimp from getting freezer burn?  
Along the same vein (teehee.  vein, get it?), if you are eating at a "Seafood" restaurant whose menu mainly consists of shrimp dish, then that most likely means that most of their seafood is NOT fresh because their shrimp are all frozen.

All you really need to do is know how to deep-fry in your home without making a god-awful mess or setting the house on fire.  
I don't usually advocate deep-frying in home cooking since you get enough grease in your meals when eating out, but I will make an exception for 椒盐虾.

Here is a quick crash course in deep-frying in your home.
  • Don't waste your money on a deep fryer, unless you plan on turning into a Southerner and deep frying everything and anything.
  • In a deep saucepan or wok, pour about 3/4 inch of high temperature cooking oil.  I use canola.
  • When the oil starts showing little bubbles on the bottom of the pan, it should be ready.  Drop a tiny piece of flour or shrimp leg into the oil.  If it starts frying, then its ready.
  • When you start adding the shrimp (or whatever it is you are frying) into the oil, don't overcrowd the shrimp because you want the oil temperature to stay hot. So only do a few at a time. 
  • Drop the shrimp close to the oil, so you don't splash hot oil on yourself.  (this should be fairly obvious but I will mention it anyways. I have been "splashed" by others in the kitchen who did not follow this rule).
  • I use old chopsticks as my "tongs" to fish out the fried shrimp.  But if you own some kind of tongs or net, then even better.
 Simple right?

Writing this recipe reminds me of the story of when I was in undergrad.
I lived in the apartments (a fraction of the cost of dorms), and I did a lot of home cooking because, hey, I was a poor college kid.  I made 椒盐虾 twice and on both incidences, my roommates (different people on both incidences) approached me with quizzical and disgusted looks.  
They couldn't wrap their head around the fact that:  1) You can fry foods at home.  2) You can fry in something that is not a deep fryer. 3) Yes, I cook and consume my shrimp with the head and shell still on  4). To make the shrimp crispy, you dredge the shrimp in flour.  They really had no idea why i was shoving the shrimp into flour just to place it into oil.  5) When you are done frying, you can let the oil cool then use it later in cooking.
After having to defend my both, my cooking methods and my choice in foods, I never felt comfortable to make this dish (or any other non-Westernized dish) while still living with my roommates. 

Flash forward 6 years to 2011:
I found some large head-on shrimp in the freezer.  

When I was trying to think of a dish to make for dinner that evening, all I could think of, to utilize the entire shrimp (the head and the shell), was to make 椒盐虾!!
I really do enjoy the dish, and I do order it from time to time in Chinese restaurants.  And I no longer live in an apartment with judgmental, close-minded roommates.  
Instead, I share a house with a guy that knows Chinese food and does not question or ridicule my cooking.  (his name is Jeff, if you didn't know...).

The dish was really quite easy to make, was not too time consuming (I love food that is zero prep work), and it came out tasting just like at the restaurant.

Here is the ingredients list:
- Shrimp
- Canola oil
- Corn or tapioca starch
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper.  
- Green Onions.  diced
- Jalapenos.  sliced thinly

Here are the instructions!!  
Follow closely!
1. Defrost and pat dry your shrimp.
2. Pour corn starch or tapioca starch in a large bowl.
3. Heat up your oil in the sauce pan (following deep frying instructions above).
4. Dredge each shrimp in the starch bowl, then drop into the oil.
5. When the shrimp is completely cooked, maybe about 2-3 minutes each, remove it from the oil and onto a paper-towel-lined plate.
6. When you have fried all of your shrimp, in a separate pan, heat up a little cooking oil (or you can use a little of your frying oil).
7. Add in the green onions and jalapenos until slightly cooked.  Then add in all the fried shrimp.
8. Sprinkle salt and black pepper all over the shrimp, and the turn the contents a couple of times, to evenly distribute the salt, pepper, jalapenos, and green onions.
9.  Serve it on the plate.  So pretty!  So good with rice!!  (well.. everything is good with rice).

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