Chinese-Style Deep-Fried Salty Shrimp Recipe

Fried head-on shrimp finished with crisp green onions, garlic, and chile flakes.

A close-up of two Chinese-style deep-fried salty shrimp, encrusted with bits of browned garlic, scallion, and pepper flakes.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

Why It Works

  • Deep-frying shrimp with heads still on amps up their savory richness and creates a wonderful textural contrast between the crisp shells and the oozing tomalley-like contents of the heads.
  • Tossing the just-fried shrimp in fried bits of scallion and garlic coats their surface with a savory infused oil and adds an extra level of crunch.

I don't make this fried shrimp recipe just so I can eat the shrimp heads. That would be like making chocolate chip cookies just for the chocolate. You need both: the interplay between the richness and the supporting structure. But certainly, the shrimp heads are the lure, the main attraction.

Here is one of my first cultural class memories. I am quite young, and my parents and I have not been in this country too long, and my mother, in her attempt to be a generous hostess, fries shrimp with their heads still attached.

Our guests, all American-born, are totally horrified, and I spend the rest of the evening eating most of the shrimp heads from the platter. I am maybe five or six years old and I could not be happier. There could be nothing sweeter and tastier than those shrimp heads. For in their armored shells you will find the hepatopancreas, the digestive organ that in lobsters and crabs would be called the tomalley.

Shrimp hepatopancreas tastes like tomalley, only shrimpier, and more liquid-like.

(I tried to take a picture of a head full of its rich ruddy innards, but it was just too unflattering and maybe graphic an image, so you must use your imagination.)

Like tomalley, it's a rush of rich-tasting stuff and you would be best advised to use your fingers and eat quickly. The smaller the shrimp head, the less of a barrier there is between the outer shell and the inner goods. You bite down, its liquid center releases, and you munch, shell, antennae, and all.

This is a simple recipe, the only caveat being that you need to deep-fry the shrimp. But it's not really an ordeal. Shrimp frying lasts three, five minutes, tops, even for shrimp that are quite large.

This Cantonese recipe has you tossing the deep-fried shrimp with minced garlic, green onions, and red chili pepper flakes, all of which you have browned with a bit of oil. The garlic and green onions cling to the just-fried shrimp. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you like. The seasonings will stick pretty well to the shells, which are coated in a little egg and cornstarch or flour, but whatever does not cling to the shrimp will be fun to grab from the platter.

If you want to continue in a Chinese vein, you can add things like five-spice powder or ground Sichuan peppercorn. Or, you can sprinkle on Old Bay and smoked paprika.

It is finger-licking good. When the shells are perfectly thin and crisp and the innards are ripe for the eating, the balance between the two is pretty wonderful.

July 2012

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups peanut, canola, or vegetable oil

  • 3 large cloves minced garlic (about 3 tablespoons)

  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

  • 1 teaspoon dried red chile pepper flakes (optional)

  • 12 to 16 whole jumbo shell-on, head-on shrimp, about 1 pound

  • 1/2 large egg, beaten

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder, Old Bay, smoked paprika, Sichuan peppercorns, or a combination (optional, as desired)

Directions

  1. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, scallions and let brown, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chile pepper flakes if using and stir until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Transfer oil and aromatics to a large metal bowl. Wipe wok clean with paper towel.

  2. Add remaining oil to wok and heat to 375°F over medium heat. Meanwhile, combine egg and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. When the oil is ready, add half of the shrimp, dropping them into the oil one at a time. Cook, agitating and flipping shrimp frequently until crisp and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes total. Transfer shrimp to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with remaining batch.

  3. Add drained fried shrimp to bowl with browned aromatics. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and optional additional seasonings. Serve immediately.

Special Equipment

Wok

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
249 Calories
19g Fat
11g Carbs
8g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 249
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 25%
Saturated Fat 2g 9%
Cholesterol 87mg 29%
Sodium 444mg 19%
Total Carbohydrate 11g 4%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 3mg 17%
Calcium 53mg 4%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 118mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)