Stir-Fried Shrimp and Asparagus in Garlic Sauce

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2017

Why This Recipe Works

We started our shrimp stir-fries by tossing the shrimp with a little salt and sugar and letting them sit for 30 minutes. This not only seasoned the shrimp but also helped them retain moisture during cooking. When the shrimp were almost ready, we quickly cooked the vegetable component and set it aside. Then, rather than stir-fry the shrimp in a hot skillet as most recipes call for, we added the sauce to the pan and poached the shrimp gently in the liquid, covered, to ensure that they stayed moist. We built our sauces on a flavorful base of soy sauce, sherry, and sherry vinegar. A little cornstarch ensured that the sauce thickened to just the right shrimp- and vegetable-coating consistency.


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1 pound extra-large (21-25) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
cup plus 2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian broad bean chili paste
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
3 large scallions, white parts chopped fine, green parts cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 ½ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut on bias into 2-inch lengths

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Serves 4

If your shrimp are treated with salt, skip step 1. Asian broad bean chili paste or sauce is also known as toban djan; Lee Kum Kee is a common brand. Serve with rice.

1. Combine shrimp, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Whisk 1/3 cup sherry, soy sauce, chili paste, and vinegar together in bowl. Whisk cornstarch and remaining 2 tablespoons sherry together in second bowl.

3. Heat oil and garlic in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until garlic is just beginning to brown at edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase heat to high, add scallion whites and ginger, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add asparagus and scallion greens, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer vegetable mixture to bowl.

4. Add sherry–soy sauce mixture and shrimp to skillet and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Whisk sherry-cornstarch mixture to recombine and add to skillet; increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Return vegetable mixture to skillet and toss to combine. Transfer to serving dish and serve.

Shopping for Shrimp: Buyer Beware

Most supermarket shrimp are frozen, so to prevent darkening or water loss during thawing, some manufacturers treat the shrimp with salt or sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP). (To determine if your shrimp has been treated with salt or STPP, look on the ingredient list.) We cooked samples of salt- and STPP-treated shrimp, as well as untreated shrimp, and tasted the samples side by side. We also brined a batch of each type of shrimp before cooking to see how it affected their flavors and textures. Here are our recommendations.

SALT-TREATED SHRIMP ARE OK IN A PINCH: Salt-treated shrimp were a bit saltier than plain shrimp, though not objectionable, and their textures were comparable. If using salt-treated shrimp, skip any brining, which doesn’t have a pronounced effect on the shrimp’s flavor.

AVOID STPP-TREATED SHRIMP: Tasters disliked the chemical flavor and mushy texture of STPP-treated shrimp, both plain and brined. We do not recommend cooking with STPP-treated shrimp.