Hello everyone! Sorry for the delay in posting; life has been getting in the way of me sitting down to write posts. I actually have hefty backlog of posts to work on….

This week has been pretty packed, with Mr. ABC Chef (my husband, Tim) coming back from PyCon in Montreal, celebrating his birthday with two birthday dinners (one where I made Korean food for him and 4 of his buddies!), and going to Hopkins Alumni weekend, which was mostly an excuse to hang out with my best friend 🙂

The best friend and I ate out every meal, except Sunday breakfast, which we made together- dou jiang and fan tuan, which are staples of Taiwanese breakfast. Stay tuned for a fan tuan (deep fried dough aka you tiao, dried pork, and salted and slightly sweet radish bits- all wrapped up in sticky rice, almost like a sushi roll!) recipe to come.

Then on the way home, Megabus was delayed a whole hour, so I spent over an hour in line, doing nothing but trying to get the intermittent WiFi to idly browse Instagram and Facebook, while fighting the cold breeze.

Anyway, now we are back to our regular schedule!

I would regularly ask, “媽媽(mama), how do you make this?” when we just ate something really tasty at a restaurant. Or, my mom would shake her head and discreetly mutter to my sister and me that the restaurant was taking shortcuts because x and y dish should not be made this way, but that way instead.

媽媽 always said that the Chinese “salt and pepper”seasoning should just be toasted salt, and Sichuan peppercorns, ground up. Nothing else. When we got salt and pepper pork chops (because they were always the least expensive and you would get more than if you ordered squid or shrimp), I would look forward to the deep fried pork pieces that were laced with this addicting seasoning, and when the meat was gone, I would use my chopsticks skills to hunt for abandoned pieces of scallions and jalapenos, and mix it with the restaurant white rice in my bowl. I wondered why no one else would eat these pieces of salty goodness that were left behind, but was also glad that my sister and I had these morsels all to ourselves.

salt and pepper shrimp

 I’ve been wanting to post a recipe for salt and pepper shrimp that would do justice to its name. When you make the salt and peppercorn powder, prepare to be blown away by the mysteriously addicting aroma that is created by the marriage of two simple spices!

Chinese language tip: 椒 = jiao, which is the second word for the word pepper (胡椒)
鹽 = yan, which means salt (To pronounce, think more of yen than yan)

Jiao yan xia
Salt and Pepper Shrimp


Part I: Peppercorn salt (椒鹽 or jiao yan)
1 Tbsp salt (Coarse or Kosher salt is preferred)
1 1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

Part II: Shrimp
1 lb head-on shrimp, trimmed of whiskers and pokey things
3/4 pound headless shrimp
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2-3 tsp peppercorn salt (see Part I and notes in recipe)
2 or more stalks scallions, chopped
2 or more hot peppers (jalapenos, Thai chilies), chopped
Oil for frying

1) Make the peppercorn salt: Toast the salt on medium high heat in a dry pan, making sure to stir the salt around often. The salt will actually turn from white to a yellowy color. When it is yellowy, transfer to a bowl. In the same pan, toast Sichuan peppercorns on low, just until they release their intoxicating  smell ;D. Immediately transfer them to the bowl with the salt.  Once they have cooled to room temperature, blend them up well in a coffee bean grinder, mortar and pestle, or transfer to a ziptop bag and pound away with a rolling pin. I’ll post a picture of the process soon!

2) Dry the shrimp thoroughly but gently, either with a kitchen towel or paper towel.

3) Coat the shrimp in cornstarch.

Mise en place; coated shrimp, cut-up aromatics, and ground up peppercorn salt (椒鹽)

4) Prepare a wire rack over a sheet pan lined with newspaper or junk mail. If you don’t have this, you can line a plate with paper towels. If you wish, turn the oven to the lowest setting for use later.

5) Heat oil in a pot- I like to use a wok. How much oil? Depends on how deep-fry-y you want your shrimp. I am a deep fry pansy, and like to add only 3 or 4 inches high of heat; just enough to cover the object being deep fried, but not enough to generate too much oil waste. I deep fry about 4 shrimp at a time, and this method works for me. Anyway, heat the oil until bubbles form around a chopstick or skewer bubbles when dipped into the oil.

6) Add your scallions and peppers to the oil, and immediately remove with a slotted spoon or spider. Transfer these aromatics to your wire rack or plate.

7) Gently add the shrimp in so as not to crowd the pan, and you will start to see the cornstarch turn golden brown. Shrimp cooks very quickly, and after about 20-30 seconds (or earlier!), you will start to see the edges get golden brown. Flip the shrimp and cook until the other side is browny too (will not take as long). Transfer to the prepared wire rack or plate. Turn the oven power off, and stick the wire rack or plate in the oven for keeping your shrimp warm.

8) As you go through batches of shrimp, you may need to add oil or use a spider to remove dark brown bits. This would be another advantage of adding more oil than my pansy-amounts.

9) When all the shrimp have been cooked, add the shrimp and jiao yan to a clean bowl, and toss together. I only used 2 teaspoons because I was unsure of my guests’ tolerance for numbness :D. Feel free to err on the side of caution and put the rest of the jiao yan in a small bowl and serve it alongside the shrimp for guests’ adjustments.

-Consider making a bunch of jiao yan and keeping it in an airtight container for use with other proteins. Jiao yan is great on pork, chicken, and squid!
-Use as many or as few chili peppers or scallions as you wish.
-My preferred method for cleaning head-on shrimp is to use kitchen shears/scissors. Cut in the direction opposite of the way the whiskers and pokey things are growing; think of it as giving the shrimp a shave?
-If you can plan ahead, dry the shrimp out by putting them in a colander or mesh strainer that is nested over a bowl. Store in the refrigerator overnight. This will lead to little or no moisture blotting in Step #2.
-You can use rice flour or sweet potato flour instead of cornstarch, but cornstarch is more commonly found at restaurants.
-Here’s a convenient way to toss/coat things without messing your hands or other utensils that I learned from watching great chefs: Dump both the cornstarch and shrimp into a bowl, then carefully toss the bowl down and away from yourself, then up, then back towards yourself. If someone were facing you from your right side, they would see you drawing a J, starting with the hook. It’s a similar motion to what that chefs use while cooking with woks.
-If you want to lighten this dish up, You can always just stir fry the shrimp instead of deep-frying; just know that I’ve never seen any Chinese restaurant make it in a non-deep-fried manner.