I jumped right into this recipe from Raymond Sokolov's The Cook's Canon as soon as I saw the ingredients. I am an absolute nut for Sichuan peppercorns, and while it's apparently a common combination, the mixture of it with Chinese five-spice powder and shrimp sounded remarkable. I'd heard of black pepper shrimp, but this seemed to take the notion one delicious step further.
But the recipe is a little odder than I realized. The shrimp are dropped straight in bubbling oil, tossed with salt, and then coated with Sichuan pepper, black pepper, five-spice powder, and lots more salt. The shells crisp up in the oil, and as Sokolov claims, it is perfectly acceptable to eat the whole package, shell and all. I was reluctant at first, but turns out he's totally right. They are crunchy, but not tough. It works.
The only issue is the sheer abundance of salt. It's kind of a relief to remove the shells. You'll still get the sensation of the spices, but without the abundance of sodium. Perhaps I'll just have a lighter hand next time. My wife brought up a good point—these would make a better appetizer than a main course because they are a little too flavorful.
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 pound medium shrimp, shells on, heads and legs removed
- vegetable oil for frying
Add the Sichuan peppercorns to a dry non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat. Toast them quickly until they are dark and fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and grind.
Add three tablespoons of the salt to the same skillet set over medium heat. Stir occasionally for about 3 minutes, or until the salt turns gray. Combine it with the ground Sichuan pepper and five-spice powder.
Pour enough oil to come halfway up a medium-sized pot. Bring the temperature of the oil up 350°F. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn red, which should take less than a minute.
Add the rest of the salt to a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the cooked shrimp and stir quickly until coated with salt. Then transfer directly to the salt mixture. Toss until coated. Serve the shrimp on a platter, with the rest of the salt mixture on the side.