Dry-Braised Shrimp ft. Crispy Pork (Ganshaoxia, 干烧虾)
Chengdu Challenge #11: Unusual Juxtapositions Bring Unusual Compliments
In America, everything’s better with bacon on it. In Sichuan, everything’s better with browned pork bits. You might think, as I did, that big fresh shrimp don’t need the added attraction of a pork topping. But you’d be wrong, as I was. This is a fantastic combination in 干烧虾 (gānshāoxiā) dry-braised shrimp, bumped up by earthy-salty yacai (pickled mustard greens) and pickled hot chili peppers.
It’s really like two dishes in one. First, you get your hands in there to remove the shells from the fat, juicy, dry-braised shrimp—licking the shell clean beforehand, of course. Then after you’ve devoured the pork-tinged shrimp, you’ve still got a bowlful of savory, shrimp-tinged pork to flavor your rice.
So many Sichuan dishes are crowned with this pork mince—dandan noodles, dry-fried green beans, mapo doufu (substituting beef)—that I was happy to find an explanation of sorts in Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook (1976):
[Fish with meat sauce] exemplifies the Szechwanese taste for unusual juxtapositions of ingredients. Cooking in meat sauce, shaozi, is a favorite Szechwanese method. Mrs. Chiang makes noodles, bean curd, and eggplant that way. Like the fish, they are all marvelously spicy dishes, redolent with garlic and hot pepper paste, and are absolutely delicious.
After reading that description I’ll be making Mrs. Chiang’s fish with meat sauce very soon. But her description could apply equally well to this recipe for dry-braised shrimp with crispy pork, which came from Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English. Mrs. Chiang’s recipes don’t call for browning the pork, but we like our pork on the crispy side, so I cook the pork until lightly browned.
(Note that as I continued to cook this recipe, the tweaked version below has a bit more sauce than the photo above, though it remains a “dry braise.”)
As in most Asian shrimp dishes, the shrimp is cooked shell-on because it preserves the moisture and texture; believe me, it’s worth the sticky fingers. The only glitch is the two-step process for cooking the shrimp, with a quick dip in hot oil to pre-cook it before the stir-fry—yet another method for keeping the shrimp tender, and worth the extra effort. By all means use head-on shrimp as they would in Sichuan if you are so inclined and if you can find them.
The spice in this dish comes from pickled red chili peppers, a distinctly Sichuan approach to the chili pepper that is hard to find readymade in America; you pretty much have to make your own or use the reasonably good substitute of Indonesian-style sambal oelek, easily found in the U.S. See my discussion on these options here.
In case you’re still thinking that this shrimp-pork combo is just weird, here’s a story about my daughter’s response the first time I made it. Seafood lover that she is, having spent her first 11 years in Guangzhou, Fongchong has a constant craving for fish and shellfish here in land-locked Nashville.
Eating this dish for the first time, she licked her fingers in ecstasy and said, “I still think your food is better than my home food.”
You still think that? You’ve never said that! You’ve never thought that! You think my Chinese food is better than the Chinese food you grew up on in China?
As she confirmed that’s what she meant, Craig and I both had to steady ourselves, knowing how hard we had worked to feed her and please her over the three years she had been our daughter—and how often we had failed.
Of course I know that a lot of that love is due to the fact that I make spicy Sichuan food, and she could seldom get her hands on that in mild-mannered Cantonese-food land.
But I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll not only take it, I’ll take it to heart, and rank it right up there as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
Dry-Braised Shrimp ft. Crispy Pork (Ganshaoxia, 干烧虾)
- 1 pound large shell-on shrimp (head on too, if possible) 450 grams
- ¼ pound ground pork approx. 100 grams
- 1 teaspoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 to 4 teaspoons chopped pickled red chilies or sambal oelek
- 5 scallions, cut in ½-inch sections
- 2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
- ⅓ cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons Yibin Suimiyacai
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Cut along back of shrimp with kitchen shears and de-vein them, leaving the shell on.
- Heat a wok over high flame until you see wisps of heat. Add about ½ cup of peanut or canola oil, enough to fry the shrimp in one or two batches. Fry shrimp in moderately hot oil until the shell is pink and puckered and the shrimp is just partially cooked. Remove and drain on paper towel.
- Pour off oil, clean wok and return to heat. When quite hot, add 2 tablespoons oil and pork and break it up into small bits as you cook. Add soy sauce, 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine and ½ teaspoon salt and continue to stir-fry until the pork is brown and lightly crispy.
- Add the pickled chilies, scallion, ginger and garlic and stir-fry briefly to bring out their aroma. Add stock, yacai, 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add back the shrimp and simmer briefly, until shrimp is just done. Don't overcook the shrimp. Add sesame oil and remove to a serving plate. Collect compliments.
Tried this last night! The deep, rich, complex flavor in this dish is nothing short of amazing. I found the Yibin Yacai easily enough here in Washington DC and I used the sambal oelek as I keep that on hand anyway.
Mine came out a little more soupy than the picture but the flavor was so amazing my guests quickly forgot about that! We quickly downed the entire dish and vowed to make it again next week to see if we can improve the outcome to better match your picture!!
Thank you for yet another delicious sichuan recipe. Finally, I am an avid gardner who always has tons of peppers at the end of the season so next year I will be making my own La Jiao Jang!!!
You are bringing this wonderful culture to us by way of the food and we all owe you a debt of gratitude! Keep up the great work. Thanks again.
Thank you so much, Jim! I really appreciate the feedback and am thrilled to know your version was tasty. Your comments were a fab Christmas present!
Discovering the MaLa Project in Rio de Janeiro Brasil where there is no Chinese restaurant worth mentioning…. Avid for Chinese food I happened upon your site and fell in love. Found a Chinese grocery store in Rio that had some ( and probably most ) of the ingredients in your recepies. Was amazed that they sell the SzeChuan fermented black beans (with Ginfer) – you recommend: sac. Yang Juan Preserved Black Beans! Also dried Shitake mushrooms of various sizes and both the cooking and sipping Shiro sing cooking wines. I made the shrimp with crunchy pork bits, substituting the Ya Lai – but perpas the Jo Mei store can either get me the missing ingredients or already have them and I did not ask!
Thank you so much for opening this new culinary adventure for me. The shrimp came out greats, even if not with every ingredient required! Best regards, Leona
This makes me so happy! Chinese may be the only cuisine that you can find most of the ingredients for cooking anywhere in the world. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your adventure!
This looks like it might have been the inspiration for a dish I sampled at New York’s Szechuan gourmet last week. The prawns were peeled and deveined, no la cai, and it included cut-up asparagus. But the ground pork was there in abundance, along with healthy doses of ginger and garlic, so much so that I was worried about dragon breath at the office after lunch. Looking forward to trying your version soon.
Interesting! I’ve actually never noticed this on a restaurant menu, and only know it from the culinary institute’s cookbook, but I do think the pork goes surprisingly well with the shrimp. I recently made it with the shortcut of already-peeled and deveined fresh shrimp. It was easier to make and eat, and almost as good. Thanks for writing!
Greetings from Germany. What a wonderful blog you have. I made this tonight and everyone was blow away by how good it was. I made it with sambal oelek, so I’m still wondering how much better it is with pickled red chilies. I am looking forward to making all your other recipes.
Thank you! I love to hear from Europe. I feel this is an unjustly overlooked recipe, so I’m happy to know that you tried it and liked it. It’s one of my daughter’s favorites too. Thanks for writing!