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 flavor profile.
A quick salt-rice wine soak improved the shrimp’s texture, plumping them, as well as contributing flavor; 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 flavorful 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.
In theory, garlic shrimp pasta has all the makings of an ideal weeknight meal. Toss a few quick-cooking ingredients — shrimp, garlic, oil, wine — with boiled dried pasta, and only the salad’s left holding up dinner.
But there are challenges. Delicate shrimp overcooks in a matter of seconds. Volatile garlic can easily become overbearing or bitter (or simply disappear). Add to that the feat of getting a brothy sauce to coat the pasta, and this simple recipe turns into a precarious balancing act. But we still wanted it all: al dente pasta and moist shrimp bound by a supple sauce infused with a deep garlic flavor.
Marinate the shrimp while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Use a smaller amount of red pepper flakes for a milder sauce.
CRISPY SALT AND PEPPER SHRIMP
Start to finish: 1 hour
11/2 pounds shell-on medium-large shrimp (31-40 per pound)
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
21/2 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 jalapeño 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 an oven rack to the upper-middle position, and heat the oven to 225 degrees. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and line a large plate with a triple layer of paper towels.
Toss the shrimp with the rice wine and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Combine the black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, sugar and cayenne in a small bowl.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until oil registers 385 degrees. 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 1/3 of shrimp to hot oil, and fry, stirring occasionally to keep shrimp from sticking together, until light brown, 2-3 minutes. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 375 and 385 degrees.
Using a 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 degrees, 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 degrees. Toss the jalapeño rings with remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a separate bowl. Shake off excess cornstarch, then carefully add jalapeño rings to oil and fry until crisp, 1-2 minutes. Transfer jalapeño rings to prepared plate. After frying, reserve 2 tablespoons frying oil.
Heat reserved oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, ginger and remaining peppercorn mixture, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is fragrant and just beginning to brown, about 45 seconds. Add the shrimp, scallions and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and toss to coat.
Line a serving platter with the shredded lettuce. Arrange shrimp on platter, and sprinkle with jalapeño rings. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 251 calories from fat; 28 g fat (2 g saturated, 1 g trans fats); 143 mg cholesterol; 729 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 16 g protein.
GARLIC SHRIMP PASTA
Start to finish: 45 minutes
1 pound large shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled and deveined, with each shrimp cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
9 garlic cloves, peeled (5 cloves minced and 4 cloves smashed)
Salt and pepper
1 pound penne, ziti or other short tubular pasta
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
3/4 cup bottled clam juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
Combine the shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/3 of the minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Heat the smashed garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, until garlic turns golden but not brown, 4-7 minutes. Off heat, remove garlic with a slotted spoon and discard. Set skillet with oil aside.
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot.
While pasta cooks, return skillet to medium heat. Add the shrimp along with its marinade, and spread into an even layer. Cook, without stirring, until oil starts to bubble gently, 1-2 minutes. Stir shrimp, and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon, and transfer to a clean bowl.
Add remaining minced garlic and the pepper flakes to skillet, and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the vermouth, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the clam juice and parsley, and cook until mixture starts to thicken, 1-2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in the butter until melted, then stir in the lemon juice.
Add the shrimp and sauce to the pasta, and toss to combine. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Season with pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing lemon wedges separately.
Nutrition information per serving: 474 calories; 130 calories from fat; 15 g fat (5 g saturated, 0 g trans fats); 111 mg cholesterol; 692 mg sodium; 60 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 20 g protein.