Szechuan Shrimp is a classic Chinese restaurant dish. A spicy, tangy Szechuan (more accurately spelled, “Sichuan”) sauce packs a ton of strong flavors on top of tender baby shrimp.
Szechuan Shrimp: Background
I remember Szechuan Shrimp was a once popular Chinese restaurant dish. It was second only perhaps to that American takeout standby, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.
I believe it was during the transformation of the traditional Chinese restaurant menu—formerly predominantly Cantonese—to the much trendier and now mainstream style of Szechuan cooking.
This dish is also a bit of a throwback to the days when “Sichuan” was spelled “Szechuan” pretty much exclusively, and known more as a label for a specific Chinese American dish than as an entire province of China’s style of cooking!
That said, Szechuan Shrimp is still holding its own, because despite its less than authentic provenance, it’s still really tasty.
Tender shrimp is covered in a concentrated spicy sauce with shallots, peppers, and delightfully nutty water chestnuts. It’s a perfectly orchestrated blend and really makes this dish unique.
If you’re not a fan of the crunchy texture of water chestnuts, feel free to leave them out. I also kicked the recipe up slightly by using douban la jiang (chili bean sauce), instead of the usual dried chili flakes.
If you can’t find chili bean sauce online or at your local Asian grocery store, Kaitlin’s hot chili oil is a great substitution.
Speaking of substitutions, the red bell peppers add a nice sweet flavor to the dish. If you really like spicy food, use red Holland, Anaheim, or even super spicy Thai chili peppers.
Enjoy this Szechuan Shrimp with a nice bowl of jasmine rice!
Mix the shrimp together with 1 teaspoon of oil and ½ teaspoon of cornstarch until they’re evenly coated. Set aside.
Next, stir in the ketchup and hoisin sauce, and turn the heat up from low to medium.
Let the ketchup and hoisin sauce fry for 1 to 2 minutes to bring out a rich color and flavor. Turn the heat down if it looks like the sauce may burn.
Add the chicken stock, and let the mixture come to a boil; then immediately turn the heat down to let the mixture simmer.
Once the shrimp and sauce mixture returns to a steady simmer, stir in the cornstarch slurry until the sauce has thickened. At this point, the shrimp should be opaque and cooked through.
Stir in the scallions.
Serve this spicy Szechuan shrimp with steamed rice!
Szechuan Shrimp, A Classic Chinese Restaurant Dish
- 1 pound shrimp (450g, size 50/60, peeled and de-veined)
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (plus 2 tablespoons, divided)
- ½ teaspoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon ginger (minced)
- 2 teaspoons doubanjiang (chili bean sauce) (or chili oil (NOTE: the chili oil should have flakes in it)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- ¼ cup shallots or red onion (minced)
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- ¼ cup water chestnuts (chopped, optional)
- 1 medium carrot (very finely chopped)
- ½ red bell pepper (diced)
- 1 cup chicken stock (120 ml)
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (mixed with 2 tablespoons of water)
- 1 scallion (chopped)
- Mix the shrimp together with 1 teaspoon of oil and ½ teaspoon of cornstarch until the shrimp are evenly coated. Set aside.
- With the burner on low, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in your wok. Add the ginger and fry for 30 seconds. Next, add the douban jiang or the hot chili oil (with chili flakes), the garlic, and the shallots, and continue to stir fry for another 2 minutes.
- Next, stir in the ketchup and hoisin sauce, and turn the heat up from low to medium. Let the ketchup and hoisin sauce fry for 1 to 2 minutes to bring out a rich color and flavor. Turn the heat down if it looks like the sauce may burn.
- Next, add the Shaoxing wine, water chestnuts (if using), and the red bell pepper. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, and let the mixture come to a boil; then immediately turn the heat down to let the mixture simmer.
- Add the rice vinegar, sesame oil, salt, sugar and white pepper, and continue to simmer the sauce for another 3 minutes. When 3 minutes have elapsed, turn the heat up slightly and stir in the shrimp.
- Once the shrimp and sauce mixture returns to a steady simmer, stir in the cornstarch slurry until the sauce has thickened. At this point, the shrimp should be opaque and cooked through. Stir in the scallions. Serve with steamed rice!