Homemade salt and pepper shrimp is almost ridiculously easy to make yourself and is so delicious.
Four years ago, Stephen and I cashed in our airline miles and planned what was sure to be an exciting trip to Buenos Aires. We spent months deciding where to stay (a boutique hotel with free wine spigots in the room!), what to see, and most importantly, where to eat. One week before our scheduled departure, a volcano erupted in Chile, disrupting all sorts of travel to and from South America. For days, I obsessively tracked all flights to Buenos Aires out of Boston, and every single flight was canceled, often at the last minute. Not willing to take that chance, we decided to call the airlines and see where else we could go using our miles in the same general timeframe. South America was out because of the volcano, Europe was out because there are never any mileage tickets to Europe in the summer, so we looked at Asia.
Options were limited, but we ended up booking tickets to Hong Kong out of JFK, leading to a mix of emotions. I felt: 1) very excited because one of my oldest and best childhood friends had moved to Hong Kong a few years earlier and I hadn’t seen her in years; 2) stressed out because we needed to figure out how to get to and from NYC; 3) stressed because we were leaving in 4 days and needed to find a place to stay and decide where to go and what to EAT; and 4) sad because we had so carefully planned that trip to Buenos Aires. With that mix of emotions, we found ourselves a rental car, used our hotel points to book a hotel near JFK, constantly emailed my friend to make sure the hotel we were planning to choose was in an okay location (good news, it was and it was conveniently very close to her apartment), and bought a guidebook to Hong Kong. I had been once when I was 4 or 5 but I definitely didn’t remember anything about my time there except for the very exciting moment of picking out a Cabbage Patch Kid.
Though our trip was incredibly last minute and unplanned, we ended up having a wonderful time in Hong Kong. My friend took a couple days off of work to spend time with us and show us around, and she and her then-boyfriend (now husband) took us to a lot of amazing food locations that I’m sure we would never have found without them. One of these locations was on Lamma Island- a quiet and peaceful island without cars. We took the ferry over from Hong Kong Island and sat down for lunch at a casual waterfront restaurant before starting out on a planned hike. We had a totally delicious lunch and the most memorable item was the salt and pepper shrimp. I’m not sure if I’d ever had it before, but if I had, it was definitely nothing like what we had that day. A little bit spicy, a little bit salty, very crispy, and so savory and delicious, it was just so incredible. I’ve had it a few times since that lunch, but I’ve never enjoyed it quite as much as I did that day. Until now.
I’m not saying this version is as perfect as that version, but this homemade salt and pepper shrimp is really pretty amazing. Technically this should be deep fried with the shells on so you can eat the whole thing, but I’m not fond of deep frying in the house so I use peeled and deveined shrimp and just pan fry it. But the cornstarch gives it a nice crispy coating, so you almost don’t miss the deep fried deliciousness. The combination of salt, black pepper, white pepper, and scallions give it a really tasty savory flavor, and the jalapeno or fresno peppers (if you choose to add them) add an extra spicy zing. And honestly, the actual cooking takes about 4 minutes. And the mixing of the peppers, salt, and cornstarch takes about a minute. And you should preheat your pan for about 2 minutes. So if your shrimp is already defrosted, you could have super amazing homemade salt and pepper shrimp ready to go in 7 minutes. No joke!
I would HIGHLY recommend trying this dish. It’s easy enough for a weeknight, and delicious enough for any night.
- ¾ lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1½ TBSP cornstarch
- 1¼ tsp salt (divided)
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp white pepper*
- ½ fresno or jalapeno pepper, sliced* (take out the seeds if you wish, or leave out entirely)
- 2 scallions, sliced
- 1½ - 2 TBSP oil
- Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and then toss in a medium bowl with the cornstarch, ¾ tsp salt, and ground black pepper.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium high. Add the shrimp in a single layer and cook for two minutes. Flip each piece over and cook for an additional 1½ - 2 minutes. Remove shrimp from the pan and place on a large plate lined with paper towels.
- Pat the shrimp dry and then toss in a clean medium bowl with the white pepper and remaining salt. Add the sliced scallions and the hot pepper (optional) and you're all set and ready to eat.
*White pepper is pretty easy to find in most grocery stores, but you can just use the same amount of black pepper if you can't find it, just keep in mind that it will taste a bit different.
*You don't have to add the fresno or jalapeno pepper. Fair warning, keeping the seeds in could lead to a super super spicy dish so you may wish to remove the seeds!