Cecilia Chiang's Sichuan Shrimp

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I have been proud to call Cecilia Chiang my friend for over 40 years.

 She introduced San Francisco and America to authentic Chinese food in 1961 with the opening of her wildly popular restaurant, the Mandarin. She closed the restaurant in 2006, but today at age 98, she continues to be involved in restaurant consulting, starring in documentaries, writing cookbooks and crossing the globe accepting honors.  She, Danny Kaye, James Beard and I shared many wonderful dinners back in the seventies. 

This shrimp recipe, which is one of my favorites, comes from her book, written with Lisa Weiss, The Seventh Daughter. It is part fascinating memoir and part delicious recipes and in total a mesmerizing autobiographical journey and culinary experience.

Asian cooking is not one of my go-to cuisines, so I do not have a wide array of Chinese ingredients in my pantry or fridge. I especially appreciate this recipe in that it uses almost all ingredients I have in my limited Asian kitchen. I usually have shrimp in my freezer, so I can stir-fry these at a moment's notice. 

About the Ingredients

Kikkoman soy sauce is always in my fridge and the brand Cecilia recommends. 

Asian sesame oil is made from toasted sesame seed and is a deep golden color. She doesn't recommend any special brand, but buy it in small quantities so it doesn't turn rancid and store it in the refrigerator.

The sauce recipe is made with standard ingredients you probably have on hand. The only one you may need to buy is the wine, and it keeps for months in the fridge.

The sauce recipe is made with standard ingredients you probably have on hand. The only one you may need to buy is the wine, and it keeps for months in the fridge.

Canola oil is a good, healthy all-purpose oil for cooking and stir-frying and the kind I have in my pantry. Many Asian cooks prefer peanut oil because it has a high flash point, meaning it can reach a higher temperature without smoking and burning. If you do a lot of stir-frying and frying, you might consider using peanut oil

Shaoxing wine is the only ingredient in the recipe that I had to buy specifically to make it. It is made from rice, rice millet and yeast and is used both as a beverage and in cooking. Its rich flavor and alcohol content is similar to dry sherry. Cecilia recommends Pagoda brand. If the wine is labeled Shaoxing Cooking wine, it has added salt and is not recommended. Dry sherry would be a better substitute. The wine will keep several months stored in a cool, dark place, but to keep it fresh, it can be stored in the fridge for years. (I know, I've done it!)

About Serving Size

The book states 1 pound of medium shrimp serves 4 to 6 as part of a western-style entree. I did an exhaustive Google search and every recipe for stir-fry shrimp, either medium-size or large, states 1 pound serves 4. I do not consider neither Karl nor I to be big eaters, but 1/2 lb. shrimp was just enough to feed him with a few left over for me--way too few to be called dinner. As a result, I have upped the amount of shrimp in the recipe to 12 ounces for two. Due to personal preference, I have also increased the size of the shrimp from medium to large. If you want to cook 1 pound of medium or large shrimp, you do not need to double the sauce. I have already done that. 

Cecilia Chiang's Sichuan Shrimp

¾ lb. large shrimp, shelled, tails removed, deveined
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons plus peanut oil
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup ketchup
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

  1. In a bowl, gently mix the shrimp with 2 teaspoons salt to coat well. Cover the shrimp with cold water and slosh them around a few times. Drain well and transfer the shrimp to a clean bowl. Mix the shrimp with the cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil. Set aside for 5 minutes.

  2. To make the Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the wine, soy sauce, sugar, ketchup and sesame oil until combined. Set aside.

  3. To cook the shrimp: Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat until a bead of water dances on the surface and evaporates. Add the remaining 3 teaspoons peanut oil and a pinch of salt and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic, ginger and pepper flakes, stirring constantly for 10 seconds. Toss in the shrimp and stir-fry until they are just pink, about 1 minutes. Pour in the reserved sauce, bring the liquid to a boil and toss to coat the shrimp well, immediately remove the pan from the heat, as you don’t want to overcook the shrimp.

  4. To serve, turn the shrimp out onto a platter, sprinkle with a few green onion slices and serve hot.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

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