Bon Appétit (December 2014)
Are we late to the Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp party?
We were flipping through the December food magazines when we spotted this version from Bon Appétit. Then a few minutes later, we were in Cook's Illustrated, and there, again, was the same dish, this time called "Crispy Salt and Pepper Shrimp."
This is a totally new dish to us, but not to tons of other folks. Since reading about the dish, we've learned that you can sometimes find it at authentic Chinese restaurants (though we didn't find it after scouring the online menus for our go-to Chinese restaurants in D.C.). Way back in 2011, Mark Bittman profiled Danny Bowien/Mission Chinese Food's take on the dish.
So why would this dish suddenly show up in two different food magazines? We have no idea. (Do you have any theories?) But we're sure glad it did.
Reading through the recipes from Bon Appétit and Cook's Illustrated is like staring into the soul of each of these two magazines.
First, there's Bon Appétit, with a version of "Fast, Easy, Fresh" shrimp that includes only 8 ingredients, and reports to take 15 minutes (that's a fib, but we'll get to that in a moment). The write-up is short. It's not clear whether you're meant to eat the shells (you are, but that fact is hidden in the magazine and separate from the recipe).
Then there's the Cook's Illustrated version. Twelve ingredients. Easily more than 15 minutes. A very thoughtful two-page explanation from writer Andrew Janjigian about his process in making the dish.
We would like to tell you that we made both versions. But we got lazy. (Actually, we got cookie crazy.)
So we ended up going with the Bon Appétit version for no other reason than pure laziness.
Let's give Bon App a hard time for just a moment and then we'll tell you how great this dish is.
First, there's the cook time. Most of the time, to be honest, we're not overly concerned with how long a dish takes. If it looks and sounds great, we'll put in whatever amount of time it takes. This dish is advertised as taking 15 total minutes to make. Here's the first instruction:
"Using kitchen shears, cut along the backs of shrimp through shells and just deep enough to expose veins; remove veins."
We had easily more than 30 shrimp in the batch we made. That alone is going to take 15 minutes -- or, if your deveining skills are like ours, an entire afternoon.
This is definitely a recipe pet peeve of ours. We'd rather have a recipe author tell us exactly how long something will take than try to present a dish as "fast" when it really isn't. For more on this topic, we recommend "Layers of Deceit," a 2012 Slate.com article about why recipe authors lie about how long it takes to caramelize onions.
(If we're being totally honest, we skipped the deveining entirely, because we just don't care. You can do it or not.)
Anyway, we can forgive BA's fib, because we love the finished dish.
These shrimp: they're fantastic. They're salty and spicy and crispy, with a great kick from the Sichuan peppercorns, which give almost a slightly lemony, sour spiciness (at least to our palates). The cilantro on top adds a great fresh zing.
We ate them whole, shells and all. (Well, we discarded the tails.) You can peel them if you want, but we loved the crispy crunch of the shells.
These would be a marvelous appetizer for a holiday party. They're so beautiful on the plate, and we think guests would love sipping a cocktail while popping back these shrimp.
Though we loved these Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp, the next time we make this dish we'll use the Cook's Illustrated recipe. The Bon App result is good, but it strikes us as a starter version of this dish. Reading the Cook's Illustrated piece, we're certain that their version will produce a crispier, more flavorful product. Plus there's ginger in their recipe, which we think would be fantastic.
At least we think so. There's only one way to find out.
Active Time: 15 minutes, Total Time: 15 minutes
Notes from Zach and Clay:
- As discussed above, if followed to the letter, this is more than a 15 minute endeavor.
- We ate the shrimp with the shells; we'd encourage you to do the same!
- Based on advice from the Cook's Illustrated recipe, we selected 31- to- 40-count shrimp, which they found to get the most crispy when frying.
- We skipped the deveining step. It didn't seem necessary to us.
- These reheated surprispingly well; we ate them over the course of two meals.
1½ pound shell-on large shrimp
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1 Fresno chile, thinly sliced, seeds removed if desired
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
Using kitchen shears, cut along the backs of shrimp through shells and just deep enough to expose veins; remove veins. Pat shrimp dry. Whisk cornstarch, black pepper, and ¾ tsp. salt in a large bowl; add shrimp and toss to coat.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, fry shrimp until golden, crisp, and cooked through, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to paper towels and let drain, then toss in a medium bowl with Sichuan peppercorns and remaining ¾ tsp. salt. Add chile and cilantro to bowl and toss to combine.