Shrimp (小虾; xiǎo xiā) are a symbol of happiness and good fortune. One reason for this is that the shells turn red, a very auspicious color for the Chinese. When my son-in-law, Chris, heard about the Szechuan Salt & Pepper Shrimp that I had made last week, he requested that it be added to the menu for my birthday/Chinese New Year’s feast.
Note: Most of the Sichuan pepper sold in America is stale. It may have the flavor of Sichuan pepper, but not the buzz. To check for freshness, take one kernel and crunch it between your teeth. If you mouth gets a tingling numbness, then your pepper is fresh. Its common name, which translates as “numb spice,” is quite literal. It should feel like a shot of Novocain. If all you get is the distinctive flavor, no matter how strong, then you pepper is stale.
To peel or not to peel, that is the question. Leaving the shells on the shrimp protects the delicate flesh of the shrimp and allows a more flexible cooking time. Peeling the shrimp before cooking makes them easier to eat, but increases the risk of tough over-cooked shrimp.
To make Jan happy I peeled most of the shells off these shrimp. I admit that they were less messy to eat that way. If I went full traditional Chinese, I would have cooked them with their heads on, especially for a New Year’s meal.
After Dinner Note: While this was a very popular dish, my son-in-law, Chris, thought I should have added chilies. He has a point. In Sichuan cuisine, , huā jiāo (花椒; flower pepper) is almost always paired with là jiāo (辣椒; hot pepper). Maybe the next time, Jan has already hinted that I should make this again, soon.
Karl’s Szechuan Salt & Pepper Shrimp
1 lb. shrimp, raw and shells on
2 Tbs. Peanut oil
2 tsp. Szechuan Salt & Pepper
1 Green onion, green part only sliced finely
1. Peel most of the shell from the shrimp, leaving only the tail as a handle. Rinse shrimp and pat them dry with paper towels.
Tip: To get a good sear on the shrimp you want them to be as dry as possible. Wrap them in paper towels and let them dry in the refrigerator for half an hour.
2. Put the oil in a skillet. Preheat the pan, over high heat, until the oil is shimmering.
3. Add the dry shrimp and sprinkle with half of the Szechuan Salt & Pepper. Cook, without stirring, for two minutes.
4. Flip the shrimp and sprinkle with the rest of the Szechuan Salt & Pepper. Cook for one to two minutes more.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the green onion.
Tip: Provide a debris bowl for the tails.