When I teach cooking classes, one of the questions students ask most frequently is what is my favorite dish to cook again and again. Talk about hard questions! I'm constantly testing so many new recipes for this blog and other projects that I don't get to go back to old favorites as often as I should.
But of course, there are recipes I frequently crave and try to work in on nights when I'm not testing out new recipes. One is buttermilk roast chicken, a delicious standby for when friends come by for dinner. Another is chicken adobo and its coconut variation, which I frequently daydream about and could make in my sleep. And yet another is anything kung pao.
Kung pao chicken is such a standby in my kitchen because of both its mouthwatering sauce and its ease of preparation. But from time to time, I also make kung pao shrimp as a variation. The prep time is roughly the same, or even faster if you buy your shrimp already cleaned and deveined.
For kung pao shrimp, I adjust the sauce quantities to account for the shrimp not being marinated beforehand like chicken, but the end result is still a delicious mix of savory, spicy, and tangy with a hint of sweetness and some crunch from the peanuts. The key is drying the shrimp all around with paper towels, so they get a nice even sear in the wok. The actual cooking is super-easy and takes just 5 minutes or less.
Kung Pao Shrimp
- 1 pound large shrimp
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 8 to 10 dried red chilis
- 3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
- ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- Peel and devein the shrimp. Blot the shrimp all around with paper towels to get rid of excess moisture.
- Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, rice wine, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, and Sichuan pepper. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch is dissolved and set aside.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the base. Add the chilis and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the chilis have just begun to blacken and the oil is slightly fragrant. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until mostly pink on the outside but not yet cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the scallion whites, garlic, and ginger, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. Stir in the peanuts and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle the scallion greens on top, and serve.