Salt and (Sichuan) Pepper
Crispy Salt and Pepper Shrimp
To keep our shell-on, deep-fried salt and pepper shrimp shells crispy and crunchy rather than tough, we employ several tricks. First, we choose shrimp that are not overly large (31 to 40 per pound), which ensures that the shells are thinner relative to those on more jumbo specimens. Next, we coat them in a thin layer of cornstarch to dry out their shells, which helps make them brittle upon frying. Then we cook them in small batches in very hot oil, which ensures that any remaining water in the shells is driven off. To season the shrimp and keep them moist, we toss them with salt and a little rice wine and let them sit briefly before dredging and frying. And to give the dish lots of depth, we add black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, cayenne, and sugar to the coating and fry more of the same with ginger and garlic to make a flavorful paste.
The Sichuan Pantry
By Andrew Janjigian
These robustly flavored ingredients are featured in mapo tofu and many other Sichuan and Chinese dishes. They are readily available online and in Asian markets and are increasingly available in American supermarkets. They keep indefinitely and are worth seeking out to produce authentic flavors.