Whenever I go to a Cantonese restaurant, I always order something with ‘salt and pepper’ on the menu because the flavor profile is just so good!
This is an extremely versatile dish because you can use any protein you like including tofu, pork, chicken, squid, shrimp, and even frog legs! Shrimp happens to be one of my favorites, which is one of the more popular varieties. The best part? This Cantonese-style dish can be easily made at home in as fast as 20 minutes!
If you’re looking for a healthy air-fried vegetarian alternative to this, you can also check out my Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu recipe.
Why you’ll love this recipe
Salt and pepper shrimp is a favorite among many due to the contrast between the juicy succulent shrimp on the inside, and the crunchy outer shell. My favorite part about this dish is the crispy exterior! It’s coated in a light batter and then deep-fried, resulting in an airy and crunchy bite.
In terms of flavor, the salt and pepper combined with the aromatics is the perfect balance between savory and spicy. Better yet, this recipe is made with minimal ingredients which is great for busy weeknights. Whether you want to make this recipe for an easy dinner at home or share a big batch with guests, this dish is a definite crowd-pleaser!
How do I prepare Salt and Pepper Shrimp?
To prepare this decadent dish, just follow these simple steps below!
Step 1: Trim the shrimp
Trim away any sharp or pointy areas of the shrimp. Using a scissor, carefully cut the back side of the shrimp while leaving the shell on. Then, devein each shrimp, rinse, and set aside.
Step 2: Season the shrimp
Season the shrimp with salt and white pepper, and make sure to mix well. Next, add cornstarch and mix until the shrimp are fully coated.
Step 3: Deep-fry the shrimp
In a deep pot, heat oil over medium heat to 375°F (190°C). Once the oil is hot, add the shrimp, making sure not to overcrowd the pot. You may need to work in batches.
Once the shrimp are golden brown and crispy, allow them to drain on a wire rack or on a bed of paper towels to remove excess oil.
Step 4: Stir-fry the peppers
In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and toss in the minced garlic. When they’re slightly brown, add the chopped peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute.
Step 5: Stir-fry the shrimp
In the same wok, toss in the fried shrimp and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir together to mix well.
Step 6: Plate and serve!
Transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with a generous amount of scallions and serve hot. Enjoy!
Cooking Tips for Salt and Pepper Shrimp
To ensure you make delicious salt and pepper shrimp every time, here are some tips to keep in mind!
- Since the shrimp is the star of the dish, you want to opt for fresh, whole-shell-on shrimp. To achieve the crunchy exterior, the shrimp is served with the shell on. Frozen shrimp will not work for this.
- Be sure to prep the shrimp thoroughly before cooking. Devein the shrimp and trim off any sharp areas to make it easier to eat.
- To elevate the seasoning in this dish, you can toast the salt until it turns a yellowish color. This will deepen the flavor and also add some smokiness to the dish.
- I like using whole white peppercorns and toasting them before grinding them into a fine powder. I find that the flavors are more potent compared to pre-ground white pepper powder. Either way, use what is available and most convenient for you!
- For the crispiest and lightest exterior, I highly recommend sticking with cornstarch (or potato starch). Using all-purpose flour will not give you the same result.
- Feel free to adjust the amount of hot red pepper you want to add depending on your preferred spice level. If you don’t want the dish to be spicy, you can also omit it.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Shrimp: I like to use fresh and whole shell-on shrimp for this recipe (including the head) because it has a ton of flavor, but you can also use shrimp without heads if you like!
Cornstarch: coating the shrimp in cornstarch will make it extra light and crispy, but you can also use potato starch.
Garlic cloves: a stir-fry isn’t complete without garlic and this is no exception. The garlic is slightly toasted so you get mini garlic flavor bombs in every bite!
Long green pepper: long green pepper is mild on the spice scale. If you like, you can also swap it for jalapeno or serrano peppers for a spicier kick.
Hot red pepper: hot red pepper turns up the heat in this dish and also adds a pop of color. To adjust the spiciness, reduce or increase the amount of peppers added. You can use any spicy red pepper of your choice, like Thai chili peppers.
Salt: the salt helps to marinate and season the dish.
Ground white pepper: ground white pepper has a milder spicy taste which doesn’t overpower the delicate flavors of shrimp. I like toasting whole white peppercorns and then grinding them however, you can also use ground white pepper. White pepper can be substituted with black pepper however, I would recommend using a less as black pepper can be overpowering.
Scallion: the scallions as a garnish add freshness. Feel free to omit if you don’t have any.
Neutral oil: any neutral oil you have will be great for frying the shrimp, but make sure to use one that has a high smoking point for deep frying. These can include corn, peanut, vegetable, sunflower seed, grapeseed, or canola oil.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know if shrimp are fresh?
A good dish will always start with high-quality ingredients, so you’ll need to make sure the shrimp you buy is fresh. Whether you get them from the grocery store or local market, high-quality shrimp should smell clean and ‘like the ocean’. The body should feel firm when pressed, and the eyes look glossy. Steer clear of any shrimp that has a strong fishy smell or feels mushy to the touch.
How do you devein shrimp?
Deveining a shrimp is the process of removing its digestive tract that’s located on its back. The vein is safe to eat, but it can give off an unpleasant sandy texture when you do. You usually devein shrimp after removing its shell, but since you want to keep it intact for this recipe, you’ll have to be a little more careful.
Using a scissor, make a shallow cut on the back of the shrimp down to its tail. If it’s easier for you, you can cut the shell with the scissors and use a small knife to make a shallow incision on its back. Then, remove the black vein with the tip of the knife. Repeat the steps for the rest of the shrimp.
Do you eat the shell of salt and pepper shrimp?
Yes, you can eat the shell of the shrimp! Since they’re coated in cornstarch and then deep-fried and coated in cornstarch, they’ll be light and crispy enough to consume. But if you prefer not to eat the head or tail, you can easily pull them off before eating.
If you don’t want to eat the shell, you can remove them before marinating and cooking them. Just note that it won’t be as crunchy – the crispiness comes from the outer shell!
Can I use a different type of protein for this dish?
Yes, absolutely! While shrimp is one of the more popular varieties of ‘salt and pepper’ dishes, you can also use a wide range of other proteins too. Some include pork chops, chicken, squid, fish, and even frog logs (another one of my favorites!)
Can you store salt and pepper shrimp?
Yes, you can store leftover salt and pepper shrimp in the fridge. Just make sure you store them in an airtight container and they are good for 2 to 3 days.
To reheat them, you can refry the dish in a pan with a bit of oil until they’re heated through and fragrant. You can also quickly air fry them at 400F for 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure not to leave them on the heat for too long or you’ll overcook the shrimp!
Looking for more easy and delicious recipes?
For more shrimp dishes that you can easily make at home, check out some of my favorites below:
1. Roasted Red Pepper Shrimp Pasta – looking for a delectable pasta dish that’s packed with veggies? This recipe is just what you need! The secret is adding a bit of gochujang to the sauce to make it extra rich and bold!
2. Thai Shrimp Green Curry with Vegetables – the fragrance and versatility of this dish bring this to the top of my list. Made with thick coconut milk, shrimp, and veggies, make sure to serve with plenty of fluffy jasmine rice because you’ll be devouring this!
3. Honey Walnut Shrimp – this is hands down my favorite Cantonese banquet dish. This dish can be quite expensive at restaurants so if you’re looking for a recipe that’s cheap and tastes even better than the restaurants, this is the one! Made with my Honey Glazed Walnuts recipe, this delectable dish is simply irresistible!
4. Shrimp Summer Rolls – light, refreshing, and nutritious – this summer roll recipe is perfect as a summer appetizer. Pair it with my creamy and spicy peanut sauce, and I promise you’ll be addicted!
5. Crispy Shrimp Toast (Menbosha) – if you’re craving something indulgent that requires minimal effort, this shrimp toast recipe is right up your alley. Deep-fried to golden perfection and served with chili oil ketchup.
Salt and Pepper Shrimp
- 8 oz whole shell-on shrimp trimmed, deveined
- 2 tbsp cornstarch substitute with potato starch
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 long green pepper thinly sliced
- 1 hot red pepper thinly sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp whole white pepper substitute with ground white pepper
- 1 scallion chopped, for garnish
- 2 tbsp neutral oil plus more for frying
- Trim away any sharp or pointy areas of shrimp. Using a scissor, carefully cut the back side of the shrimp with the shell on. Devein, rinse and set aside.
- In a pan over low heat, toast the white peppercorns for 2 to 3 minutes so until fragrant. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind into a fine powder. *Skip if using pre-ground white pepper
- Season the shrimp with salt and white pepper. Mix well. Next, add cornstarch and mix until fully coated.
- In a deep pot, heat neutral oil over medium heat to 375 F / 190 C. Add the shrimp, making sure not to overcrowd the pot. You may need to work in batches. Drain on a wire rack or on a bed of paper towels.
- In a wok, heat up 2 tbsp oil and toss in the minced garlic. When they've slightly browned, add the chopped peppers and stir fry for 1 minute.
- Toss in the fried shrimp and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Stir together to mix well.
- Garnish with scallions and enjoy!
- Feel free to use shrimp without heads. I personally think the heads are the best part however, it’s all a matter of preference.
- White pepper powder can be substituted for black pepper. If using black pepper, I recommend using half the amount as it can be overpowering.
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