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Kung Pao Shrimp (宫保虾球)

What is kung pao shrimp?

Kung pao shrimp is a traditional Chinese stir-fry dish popular around the world. It is a spin-off from Kung Pao chicken, the original dish how Kung Pao is prepared.

Kung pao shrimp is reinterpreted with endless versions outside China to suit local tastes.

The authentic version uses plenty of Szechuan peppercorns, chilies, scallion, and peanuts. Kung pao shrimp from other countries are relatively less spicy and include more vegetables. 

I will use a moderate amount of Szechuan peppercorns, dried chilies, some bell peppers and substitute the peanuts with cashews in this Kung Pao shrimp recipe.

Note: The following translations are the same: kung pao shrimp, kung bao shrimp, kong po shrimp, and kung bo shrimp. They are all derived from the Chinese name 宫保虾球。

Prepare restaurant-style kung pao shrimp (kung bao shrimp / 宫保虾球 at home in 30 minutes. Cook with bell pepper and dried chili and Szechuan peppercorns,

Let’s get into the detail right in.

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How to make kung pao shrimp

1. Get ready the shrimp

Kung Pao shrimp is best to prepare with medium-size shrimp.  You can purchase frozen, shelled shrimp to save time, although the flavor will not be the best. 

Here are the steps

  • Wash the shrimp with plenty of water to remove the dirt. Drain the shrimp in a colander.
  • Remove the head and shell but retain the tail for better presentation.
  • Butterflying the shrimp by cutting them in half lengthways and flattening them out.  The shrimp looks more appealing after deep-frying this way. It is also easier to remove the black string (the digestive tract) down its back.
  • Pat dry the shrimp with a kitchen paper towel or dry cloth. The shrimp will splatter in the oil when deep-fried if it is too wet.
  • Season with some salt and ground white pepper. White pepper helps to cover the unwanted ‘fishy’ smell.
  • Coat the shrimp with egg white, follow by adding cornstarch sufficiently until the shrimps start to stick together.

Note

Remove the shell is necessary to coat it with egg white and flour thoroughly. The egg white and cornstarch is the classic coating for deep-frying in Chinese cuisine.  They protect the shrimp from the direct heat of the oil and form a juicy internal with a crispy crust on the surface.

How to make the shrimp crunchy

This step is optional if you prefer shrimp with a crunchy texture. It is a standard method to treat the shrimp, which will alter its meaty texture to become more crunchy. This method is essential when preparing shrimp dumplings (Har Gow, a renowned Dim Sum) when a crunchy shrimp texture is necessary.

  • After devein and remove the shell, place the shrimp under running water to wash thoroughly for ten minutes.  You may also clean them in a container to save water but still need to change it a few times.
  • Place the shrimp in a container fill with water just sufficiently to submerge them. Add 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of baking soda and soak them for ten minutes. This process will alter the texture of the shrimp meat to become crunchy. 
  • Remove the shrimp and wash away the salt and baking soda.

2. Prepare the kung pao sauce

The Kung Pao sauce comprises light soy sauce for the savory flavor, Chinkiang vinegar for acidity, and some sugar to balance the vinegar.  Besides these main seasoning ingredients, a small amount of dark soy sauce gives a caramelized color, some sesame oil, and Shaoxing wine to accentuate the taste.

The ratio of these ingredients varies, although some cooks swear that they have a secret combination. The key is to have a savory, acidic, and sweet taste, complete with the spiciness and numbness derived from the chili and Szechuan peppercorns.

There is no technique involved in preparing the sauce. You only need to combine all the ingredients and pour them into the wok during stir-frying. Stir-frying is a quick and continuous process, and it is advisable to measure all the seasoning in advance.

3. Other supplementary ingredients

The aromatics

The primary aromatics for Kung Pao shrimp are garlic, ginger, and the white portion of scallion.

  • Peel the garlic, then give it a rough chop.  I usually do not chop it finely as it can burn in the wok quickly.
  • Thinly slice a few pieces of ginger.
  • Divide the scallion into two parts by cutting it crosswise to separate the white and the green section. Cut the white portion to quarter-inch length and the green section into one-inch length. Use the white section as aromatic, while the green section is reserved for adding to the wok at the final stage.

The spices

There are two spices used in the kung pao shrimp recipe.

  • Szechuan peppercorns impart bursts of tongue-numbing ‘mala/麻辣’ goodness.  It is not hot and spicy but will leave a unique tingling numbness in the mouth, which is the signature of Szechuan cuisine. 
  • Some people prefer to add the crushed Szechaun peppercorns to saute along with the aromatics. I like to infuse the oil with the flavor of peppercorns by heating in the oil for one to two minutes, then remove.  Not everyone wants to bite into the peppercorns.
  • Dried chilies provide hotness to the dish.  The amount of dried chilies depends on the hotness you want. You can remove the seeds by cutting them lengthwise, then soak them in water. The seeds will fall off by themselves. Soak the chili until soft before adding them to the wok.  Crushed chili flake is the substitute if dried chilies are not available. 

Other ingredients

The traditional Kung Pao shrimp recipe does not include many others ingredients, except peanuts. This recipe consists of some bell peppers (red and green), yellow onions, and use toasted cashew instead of peanuts.  It is more colorful and visually appealing this way.

Prepare restaurant-style kung pao shrimp (kung bao shrimp / 宫保虾球 at home in 30 minutes. Cook with bell pepper and dried chili and Szechuan peppercorns,

4. How to cook kung pao shrimp- step-by-step

Cooking Kung Pao shrimp involves two steps. You need to deep-fried the shrimp first, then stir-fry other ingredients before returning the cooked shrimp into the wok.

Deep-fried the shrimp

I deep-fry the shrimp for the best result. However, some people may frown whenever they respond to deep-fried recipes. I focus on putting the best food on the dining table, which is the blog’s objective.  As a practicing pharmacist for the past 25 years, I always advise my clients to take any food in moderation, unless their medical condition is required to follow a special diet.

These shrimps are deep-fried in moderately hot oil. You can use corn oil, canola oil, palm oil, or peanut oil as long as they have a high smoking point suitable for deep-frying.

Here are the steps:

  • After coating the shrimp with egg white and cornstarch, place it in the hot oil in batches.  I deep-fried the shrimp in small batches and therefore required less oil to finish all the shrimp.
  • Once you add the shrimp into the wok, let it stay undisturbed for 15 seconds, then stir and loosen the shrimps from each other.  Stirring also helps to prevent them from sticking to the wok. 
  • Once the shrimp start to turn from opaque to light pink, remove them and place them on a wire mesh strainer to drain the oil. Repeat to finish deep-frying all the batches of shrimp.

There will be some debris sticking on the surface if you use a cast iron or steel wok.  However, it is easy to remove this debris if the wok is well seasoned. You can also use a nonstick pan to deep-fry the shrimp, as the cornstarch tends to stick to the wok. 

Stir-frying to finish the cooking

  • Clean the wok after deep-frying the shrimp.
  • Heat some oil in the clean wok, add the Szechuan peppercorns and toast it over low heat for one to two minutes to release the flavor. Discard the peppercorns.
  • Saute the garlic, ginger, the white section of the scallion, and the dried chili in the peppercorn-flavored oil over low heat until aromatic.
  • Cut the onion into half-inch cubes and throw them into the wok. Stir-fry until slightly translucent, then add the bell peppers (cut into a one-inch square). Stir-fry over medium heat for half a minute.
  • Pour the Kung Pau sauce into the wok. Give it a good mix.
  • When they start to bubble, return the deep-fried shrimp to the wok. 
  • Mix two teaspoons of cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water to form a slurry. Add the slurry bit by bit to thicken the sauce. You may not need to use all the slurry. Stop adding when the sauce has thickened and no longer runny.
  • Add the green sections of the scallion.
  • Once the sauce is thick enough, turn off the heat and add the toasted cashew. Dish out and serve.

Related recipe to King Pao shrimp

You will also want to try the following dishes if you like Kung Pao Shrimp:

Kung Pao chicken is the sister dish of Kung Pao shrimp. The method of preparation is nearly identical. This recipe shows you how to prepare this classic stir-fried dish originated in the Sichuan Province, China.

The Chinese-style pan-fried shrimp has an entirely different flavor from the Kung Pao shrimp. It is pan-fried with the shell! Try this if you want something non-spicy.

This fried rice recipe is about how to take the shrimp fried rice to the next level. You will find all the tips I have summarized on how I prepared fried rice in the restaurant.

Yield: 4

Kung Pao Shrimp

Kung pao shrimp recipe

Kung pao shrimp is a traditional Chinese stir-fry dish popular around the world. It is a spin-off from Kung Pao chicken, the original dish how Kung Pao is prepared.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

Ingredients A

  • 500g shrimp, weight after clean and shelled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 egg white
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Ingredients B

  • 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 5 thinly sliced ginger
  • 2 stalks of scallion, cut the white section into 1/4 inch length, and green section into 1-inch length
  • 8 dried chilies
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cut into one-inch square
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into one-inch square
  • 1 medium-size onion, cut into half-inch square
  • 2 tbsp cashews

Ingredients C

Ingredients D

  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp water
  • Oil for frying

Instructions

Deep-fry the shrimp

  1. Wash the shrimp, drain, and pat dry. Butterflying the shrimp and remove the black string down its back.
  2. Season with some salt and ground white pepper. 
  3. Coat the shrimp with egg white, follow by adding cornstarch sufficiently until the shrimps start to stick together.
  4. Add the shrimp into hot oil in small batches. Let it stays undisturbed for 15 seconds, then stir and loosen the shrimps from each other. 
  5. Once the shrimp start to turn from opaque to light pink, remove and drain the oil.

Stir-frying to finish the cooking

  1. Heat some oil in the clean wok, toast the Szechuan peppercorns over low heat for one to two minutes. Discard the peppercorns.
  2. Saute the garlic, ginger, the white section of the scallion, and the dried chili in the peppercorn-flavored oil over low heat until aromatic.
  3. Add the onion to stir-fry until slightly translucent, then add the bell peppers and stir-fry over medium heat for half a minute.
  4. Pour the Kung Pau sauce (Ingredients C) into the wok. Give it a good mix.
  5. When they start to bubble, return the deep-fried shrimp to the wok. 
  6. Mix water and cornstarch in ingredients D to form a slurry. Add it bit by bit to thicken the sauce. 
  7. Add the green sections of the scallion.
  8. Once the sauce is thick enough, turn off the heat and add the toasted cashew. Dish out and serve.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 285Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 211mgSodium: 1882mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 3gSugar: 9gProtein: 27g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 4/26/2021

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KP Kwan

Thursday 29th of April 2021

Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

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