Salt and pepper shrimp is a dish in the same family as Salt and Pepper Pork Chops and Salt and Pepper Squid; they are all crowd pleasers. Crispy, salty, slightly spicy…what’s not to like? You’re definitely going to get a bunch of oooh’s and ahhh’s at the table when salt and pepper shrimp is being served.
Before we start, I want to clarify something about the “pepper” in “Salt and Pepper Shrimp.” When I search for “salt and pepper (椒盐)” on Chinese cooking sites, the pepper element used most in China seems to be Sichuan peppercorns, but for recipes like Salt and Pepper Pork Chops that you order from a Cantonese restaurant, the pepper used is usually white pepper.
I’ve come to the conclusion that anything works: white pepper, black pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, or a combination. Whatever strikes your fancy, or whatever you happen to have in your spice cabinet.
The salt and pepper mixture is toasted to give it more flavor and fragrance, and it’s very easy to make. You can even prepare it in bulk, transfer to jars, and give them out as gifts like people do with jams and pickles. The ratio is usually 2:1 pepper to salt. I strongly suggest you use sea salt for this recipe; it has better flavor.
Salt & Pepper Shrimp: Recipe Instructions
1. Make the salt and pepper mixture:
In a small pot over medium low heat, dry roast the whole peppercorns of your choice for 15 minutes, until very fragrant. Take care not to burn them, adjusting the heat as needed. Cool completely and use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind the peppercorns down to a powder.
In the same pot over medium heat, dry roast the salt until it turns slightly yellow in color. Let it cool and combine it with the ground pepper. You now have your own authentic salt and pepper powder, which you can use in whatever “salt and pepper” dish you like. The rest of the recipe is really easy.
2. Assemble the dish:
Rinse the shrimp and pat them thoroughly dry with a paper towel. If they have heads on, use kitchen shears to trim them as shown in the photos below.
Trim away the sharp edges around the head.
Trim away the claws.
Cut open along its back and devein.
Dredge them in potato starch or cornstarch—whatever you’re using. Cornstarch is the most readily available ingredient for making crispy dishes like this salt and pepper shrimp. See our guide on How to use cornstarch for Chinese cooking.
Heat the oil in a small cast iron skillet to 375 degrees. Quickly lay the shrimp in the oil with about an inch of space in between each shrimp, and fry the shrimp in batches, cooking each side for 30 seconds.
Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle with salt and pepper powder to taste.
In the wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Fry the garlic until just golden brown (careful not to burn it!), and set aside to drain on a paper towel lined plate.
Remove any excess oil from the wok, so there’s only a tablespoon or so left (you don’t want to use too much oil at this stage, as this salt and pepper shrimp is a “dry” dish).
Add the long hot peppers to the wok. Turn off the heat, and add the garlic back to the wok, stir-frying everything together for a minute. Add the shrimp to the wok, and gently toss everything for 10 seconds, sprinkling over a bit more of your salt and pepper mixture.
Serve your Salt and Pepper Shrimp with some drinks and/or some steamed rice!