Saturday, July 7, 2007

Kung Pao Shrimp

Kung Pao Shrimp

Kung pao chicken, gong bao ji ding is virtually on every Sichuan Chinese restaurant's menu. The difference between the classic Sichuan version and the Americanized version is in the use of Sichuan peppercorns. The Sichuan peppercorn imparts an unusual numbing and spicy sensation on the tongue, known as ma la, and is used extensively in many of the region's dishes; but these peppercorns are not used in the Americanized dish. One theory is that since the peppercorns were banned from the US from 1968 up until 2005, cooks had to create this dish without the peppercorns. However, the ban was only loosely enforced until 2002 (when they really started to crack down); before then, you could find the peppercorns if you knew where to look. So perhaps another reason is that the ma la sensation was excluded so the dish could cater more to Western tastes. Now thanks to new heat treatments to kill the citrus canker, the peppercorns can now be legally purchased. So no more smuggling them from Canada or under-the-table dealings with your local Chinese restaurant. ;)

Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe was really excellent. It was so refreshing to see that the food wasn't swimming in a pool of cloyingly sweet and goopy sauce. The flavor was great and there was just enough sauce to cling to the food. I used shrimp rather than the chicken used in the traditional dish. The only problem I encountered was with the peppercorns. I wasn't sure if I should remove the peppercorns after frying them in the hot oil. Chomping down on a peppercorn while eating the dish was very unpleasant. I would suggest either use 1 tsp and fry them in hot oil to first perfume the oil, them remove them before cooking the rest of your dish or if you'd rather not deal with the hassle of removing them from the hot oil, use 1/2 tsp and crush them up into smaller more manageable size pieces. this way it doesn't completely overwhelm your palate when you bite down on a piece.

- The recipe can also be made with cubes of chicken or pork
- The original recipe does not call for any vegetables but I figured it couldn't hurt since veggies are good for you! If you are adding a significant amount of vegetables you may need to double the sauce.

Kung Pao Shrimp
Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty

1 lb of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 garlic cloves and equivalent amount of ginger
5 scallions, white part only
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
About 10 dried red chilies
1 tsp or 1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns (see note)
2/3 C roasted peanuts or cashews

A few ribs of celery, chopped
Half a red bell pepper, chopped
Broccoli stems, chopped or slivered

1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp Shao Xing rice wine
1 tsp corn starch

2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp chicken stock or water

1. Mix the ingredients for the marinade together, toss with shrimp, and let sit in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

2. Peel and thinly slice or mince the garlic, mince the ginger, and chop the scallions. Cut the chilies in half and discard as many seeds as possible.

3. Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a wok or skillet. When the oil is hot add the chilies and peppercorns and fry for a few seconds until they are fragrant (take care not to burn the peppercorns, lower the heat if you need to, shorten the frying time if you're using crushed peppercorns). Add the shrimp (and any vegetable if using) and fry for about 30 seconds then add the green onions, garlic, and ginger. When the shrimp is almost fully cooked, add the sauce (stir it a little to recombine) and cook until the sauce is thick and shiny and the shrimp is cooked through.

5. You can mix the peanuts/cashews in or scatter them on top.

Another great idea from Jaden: make your own Sichuan peppercorn salt. You can probably use this and sprinkle it on the dish.

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