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Salt Baked Shrimp

  • d

Hello,

There is a entree that one of our local Chinese restaurants excels at. It is the only restaurant in our area which even offers this entree, although it is not on the menu. It is called "Salt Baked Shrimp."

What you get is a large platter of fresh jumbo shrimp which are baked in the shell. You read correctly. The shells are intact. Many people are incredulous when I relate this fact, having never heard of eating shrimp with the shells on.

The shells add a delectable crunchy texture to the shrimp. Furthermore, they are accompanied by generous portions of green onions, and tiny bits of fresh garlic and hot peppers. Every single bite explodes with the taste of garlic, peppers, green onions, and crunchy baked shrimp with their shells intact.

Another highlight is that this dish contains hardly any grease. It is also sauce free, allowing the ingredients described to explode with flavor to a greater intensity.

While growing up, I hated shrimp. Why? Because I mostly had it prepared fried. Fried shrimp have never agreed with me. I like neither the grease or the odor.
To this day, I usually have to leave the room if fried shrimp are being cooked.

Okay, that was just a tangent.

I am wondering if any of you have had the pleasure of enjoying a "Salt Baked Shrimp" dish anywhere that sounds as good as the one that I have described. As mentioned earlier, I have only seen it offered at one restaurant in our area.

By the way, the restaurant is the "Golden China", located in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Dennis

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  1. m
    Melanie Wong

    It's a shame that more restaurants don't offer this dish. They're probably afraid that their customers can't handle the shells. But the concept is not so strange if you think about fried soft-shell crabs. My question for you is, does your place serve them with the heads on or off?

    Rather than baked, the shrimp are actually what's called dry fried which really seals in the flavor. This is extremely easy to make at home.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Melanie,

      Please tell me how to make this at home, or how to "dry fry."

      Curiously,

      Pete

      1. re: Pete Feliz

        Cousin Melanie-

        As you know from our discussions on the SF Bay page, the salt and pepper soft shell crab is one of my favorites. I would love to know the method for recreating the crab or shrimp at home. Please share what you know of this dry-fry method!

        Thanks
        Tida

        1. re: Tida
          m
          Melanie Wong

          I'm not sure what steps of the technique outlined for the salt-baked shrimp would be used for Dungeness crab since the shells are hard and inedible. This is not something I would try at home, since the trick to making a salt and pepper crab at R&G Lounge is to cook the crab while it's still alive. This means that you chop the live crab into pieces, then start cooking when the legs are still moving. This is the secret to sealing in all that sweetness.

          Some restaurants par-boil the crab in advance, then fry it later. Notice some where the meat is drier and then doesn't come off the shell cleanly? that's why.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Chicago Chinese joints serve salt and pepper shrimp and crab on a bed of sea or rock salt. Is this common in SF and NY?

            1. re: bryan

              Salt & Pepper Shrimp is pretty much a staple on LI buffet tables. I can describe it as stir-fried tail on shrimp with bits of onion and green pepper, but not served on rock salt

        2. re: Pete Feliz
          m
          Melanie Wong

          Pete, this dish is a little bit different than the one Dennis posted on. It's a lot easier to make though. Best made with big fat live prawns bursting with roe, but also gets the most flavor out of frozen prawns too. There's so much taste to be captured from the shell.

          Dry-frying is called "gon jin" and is similar to pan-frying versus "chow" which is stir-frying.

          The amount of oil needed is minimized because you add salt to the wok (or seasoned cast-iron skillet) with the oil. You only use about 2 Tablespoons of peanut oil plus 1 teaspoon of salt to fry-up a wok-ful of prawns.

          Heat the oil and salt in the wok until a drop of water flicked on the wok dances with a fast sizzle. Add the prawns and spread out in a single layer, you want to brown the shells. Use the scoop and turn method with a chinese spatula to turn them over. At this point they're about half-cooked, now add sliced scallions, minced fresh ginger, minced garlic and slices of fresh chili peppers (or whole dried red chili pods), and a little soy sauce, toss to distribute evenly. Then add a little chicken or fish stock, and stir-fry to get the shells evenly browned. What you're trying to do is create some crusty bits, but the trick is to do this and not overcook the prawns which should remain juicy.

          Many people eat the shells, but I tend not to. I will eat the legs which are very tasty with crusted flavors. Dealing with the shells is a whole 'nother lesson.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Now I'm thinking I should've tried eating the shells of the salt and pepper shrimp at Grand Szechuan Intl -- sounds like the dishes that have been described here. It would've been a lot less work!

            Anything we should know about shell-eating, besides chew thoroughly?!

            1. re: Lisa Z

              Proper Chinese etiquette prevents you from touching the shrimp with your fingers to remove the shell. You put the whole shrimp with shell (or bite off half if large) into the mouth and rely on tongue action to pop the shell off. Then you either spit the shell on the table (old style) or pluck it off with your chopsticks and put it on the side of your plate.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks from the bottom of my heart for the recipe and the lessons.

              Pete

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            Melanie: Please don't toy with us! I'm dying for your recipe. Maine red shrimp are coming into season and while I eat them shell and all, others might think them edible if I had a legitimate way to prepare them!

            1. re: pat hammond
              m
              Melanie Wong

              I'm afraid I've led you a bit astray. I immediately thought of the dry-fried dish. But there is a Hakka "salt baked shrimp", usually called "salt and pepper shrimp" in Cantonese restaurants our here which I think is more in line with Dennis' posting. It's harder and requires more technique, but here's how to do it. You'll need a chinese wire skimmer, lao-lei, to have the most control. (Watching PBS cooking shows, it really tickles my mom to see Lidia B. or other western chefs use this handy tool to drain pasta or veggies.)

              Use medium-sized prawns preferably fresh with the heads still on. Dust evenly with baking soda, let sit for an hour or so - this tenderizes the shells. (If you've ever wondered about the unnaturally spongy tender texture of some mystery beef cuts in Chinese restaurants, this is the secret. But it supposedly removes most of the nutrient value of the beef.)

              Prepare your salt and pepper seasoning by stirring a small amount of salt in a dry, well-seasoned hot wok (captures the wok-flavor), then add a pinch of 5-spice powder and heat until the aroma is released. Remove from the wok and set aside. Each chef has his own special blend of seasonings. Some use more Sichuan pepper corn, more white pepper, etc., find what tastes best to you.

              For the water-blanching step, lay the prawns on the lao-lei in a single layer. Plunge into a large pot of boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds depending on the size of the prawns. Lift up the lao-lei to remove from heat and drain well.

              Prepare the dusting mixture by mixing some tapioca starch with a little white pepper. If you can't find tapioca starch, cornstarch is an acceptable substitute. (You can use tapioca starch instead of cornstarch for all those countless Chinese recipes; this is what they really wanted you to use.) Blot the prawns with a paper towel, then dust with starch mixture and shake off excess.

              For the oil-blanching step, heat 4 cups or so of peanut oil in the wok (do NOT substitute other vegetable oils or you won't get the right aroma). Test the temperature by dipping a wooden chopstick into the hot oil - it's ready when the stream of micr-bubbles is fast and steady. Lay the prawns in a single layer on the lao-lei. Plunge the prawns into the hot oil. The timing here is even trickier, depending on the size of the prawns and the size of batch you're making. Best to do in two small batches instead of one big one for more control. The color of the starchy coating should not get brown, only light beige. It will be crisp and cooked, even if it doesn't look like it. If you hit brown, it's way overdone. Lift up lao-lei to remove the prawns from the oil, set aside to drain. Pour out all the oil, only leaving a scant film on the wok.

              For the seasoning step, add minced garlic, minced scallions and sliced fresh chilis (jalapeno or red thai are good choices) to the hot wok. I prefer to slice the chili peppers rather than mince, so that they can be avoided at the diner's option. Stir-fry for a few seconds to release flavor but do not brown. Add prawns back to wok to bring back up to temperature, toss with aromatics. Turn-off heat, sprinkle with salt and pepper seasoning, toss, remove to platter and serve immediately.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie,

                Many thanks for the detailed description of the "Hakka" method of preparing this dish. Although I have never been inside this restaurant's kitchen to observe its preparation, your description sounds very much how I would guess that it is made.

                The shrimp are NEVER brown, but instead, a "light beige" as you have described. The heads are intact.

                This dish is so incredibly delicious that I feel like I'm in another world every time I order it. I never thought I would feel this way about a shrimp dish. In addition, every guest I have treated to this dish is unable to stop raving about it.

                Dennis

                1. re: Dennis

                  Does anyone remember the " Salt and Pepper Shrimp" as served at Phoenix Garden in Chinatown? It was the greatest. If anyone knows of a place that even comes close, I would love to hear about it. I think that it was the best Cantonese restaurant I ever ate at. They went out of business several years ago because of a structural problem in the building they were in. Any suggestions ?

                  1. re: Dennis

                    You are so lucky to have a restaurant near you who knows how to do this well.

                    It is curious that another Hakka dish, called salt-baked chicken, is a completely different cooking method.