Ingredients: shrimp, snow peas, bamboo shoots, button mushrooms, scallions, corn starch, rice vinegar, dry vermouth, garlic, ginger, salt, white pepper, sesame oil, peanut oil.
Served with: white rice.
Growing up, some of my favorite dinners involved large brown paper bags fitted snugly with little Chinese takeout boxes. I loved every step of the process: scanning the menu, asking around the house for requests, balancing the order to make sure no two choices were too similar; waiting for the sound of the garage door, which heralded Dad’s arrival with our feast; unpacking the goods, setting the table; digging in; and lovingly storing the leftovers in the fridge for breakfast next day.
This is my comfort food.
In more recent times, I’ve made it a mission to recreate those tastes, smells, and textures in my own kitchen. Some of these are damn elusive, even with full access to Asian groceries and Internet recipes. Some are pretty simple, though. Shrimp & Snow Peas is one of the easiest Chinese menu all-stars to faithfully reproduce. Here’s how!
Get some large, good quality raw shrimp. Do not ever buy precooked shrimp, unless the store is out of chewing gum and you are coming down from a meth bender. Peel and devein the shrimp, saving the shells and discarding the “veins” (which are actually mud-filled intestinal tracts). Run the shrimp under ice-cold water for a few minutes to firm up the texture, then marinate them for as long as possible in a mix of corn starch, rice vinegar, salt, and white pepper. As I have mentioned in other posts, this step protects the surface of the shrimp from scorching on the wok.
Meanwhile, boil the shells for a few minutes (plus a slab of ginger and a smashed garlic clove) to make a nice shrimp stock for the sauce. This is an optional step, but there’s flavor there and it’s a shame to waste it. After straining the shells, pour in a good splash of dry vermouth. Authentic recipes use Shiaoxing wine, but I’ve never seen it for sale. The vermouth tastes right anyway.
To guarantee perfectly-cooked snow peas, I like to blanch and shock them first. That means boiling them in salt water for a couple minutes, then quickly submerging them in ice water to stop the internal cooking process. A bit of their nutrition is lost through boiling, but vegetables prepared this way come out crispy and tender with amazingly vibrant colors. Try this at home, please!
Once all the components to the dish are prepped, get a wok or heavy pan sizzling hot and add a swirl of peanut oil. Dry off and toss in the slabs of garlic and ginger from the stock (to flavor the oil), then remove them once they start browning. Fry up the shrimp until mostly pink, then toss in the cold snow peas, canned bamboo shoots, canned button or straw mushrooms, and some roughly-chopped scallions. Let those sear a bit, then add the sauce. If doesn’t thicken up enough, add more cornstarch slurry. Drizzle some sesame oil on top when it’s finished, then serve with plain white rice.
Note that there is no soy sauce in this recipe, nor should there be.