Shrimp in Red Sauce

Ganshao Mingxia

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: Unique

    While we were on Taiwan, we used to encounter this easily prepared dish of whole shrimps in a sweet red sauce at nearly every Szechwanese banquet we attended. Its ubiquity was probably due to its unusual taste, beautiful rosy color, and use of large shrimps, which, Mrs. Chiang explained, were an exotic luxury in Szechwan. When Mrs. Chiang cooked it for us, we were amazed to discover that one of the key ingredients in the recipe was ordinary tomato ketchup, a fascinating example of how Chinese cooks have skillfully assimilated a new ingredient into the traditional cuisine. The ketchup is used in much the same way as bean pastes are in other recipes. It adds to the final intriguing flavor of the sauce and to its color, but leaves no “ketchupy” taste. There is, of course, the tantalizing possibility that ketchup was not imported from the West at all, but was invented in China. When John became curious about its origin and looked it up in a few dictionaries, he found that the word “ketchup” originally came into English from a Chinese word in the Fukienese dialect, ke-tsiap, which could well mean “tomato paste.” It is hard to guess what this primeval ketchup tasted like, and the product Mrs. Chiang uses today is the same stuff we pour on hamburgers. Still, it is intriguing to speculate that ketchup, like spaghetti, came from China.

    Method

    Preparation

    1 pound large raw shrimps (for a yield of 20 shrimps, approximately) Rinse the shrimps well under running water. Pull off their legs, but leave the shells on. Using a scissors, cut a small slit about one-third of the way up the back of the shell. (This will allow the marinade and cooking sauce to penetrate the shrimps more easily. You can, if you want, also remove the dark intestine on the back of the shrimp. Mrs. Chiang does this by lifting up the intestine with a toothpick where it is exposed in the slit up the back and then slowly drawing the black vein out from under the shell.)

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry

    Put the shrimps in a bowl and add the salt and wine.
    2-inch piece fresh ginger

    Peel the ginger and chop it into small pieces, about the size of a match head. Add 1 teaspoonful of the chopped ginger to the shrimps in the bowl and set the rest aside.

    Stir the shrimps well, then let stand for at least 30 minutes.

    3 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop the white parts into the same size pieces as the ginger.

    1 tablespoon cornstarch

    ½ cup water

    Mix the cornstarch and the water together in a small bowl.

    Cooking

    Pour off the excess liquid from the shrimps, but don’t rinse them off. (It is all right for the little bits of ginger to remain on the shrimps.)

    1 tablespoon peanut oil Heat the pan over a fairly high flame for about 15 seconds, then add the oil. The oil will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.

    (shrimps)

    1 to 2 tablespoons water (optional)

    Throw in the shrimps and stir-fry them over high heat for 1 or 2 minutes, until they are nearly cooked, using your cooking shovel or spoon in a scooping motion to toss the shrimps around in the pan so they are all exposed to the hot oil. When the shrimps are almost done, they will begin to turn pink and become slightly stiff. (If they seem too dry, you can add a little water during the stir-frying process.)

    Lower the heat, cover the pan, and let the shrimps cook for 5 minutes more. Then remove them from the pan and set them aside.

    3 tablespoons peanut oil

    (remaining ginger and the scallions)

    3 tablespoons ketchup

    Clean out the pan by wiping it with a paper towel, then reheat it over a fairly high flame. Pour in the fresh oil. When it is hot enough, quickly add the rest of the chopped ginger, scallions, and ketchup and stir-fry vigorously for no more than 10 seconds.

    5 tablespoons water

    ½ teaspoon sugar

    ½ teaspoon salt

    (shrimps)

    Immediately add the water, sugar, and salt and let the mixture come to a boil. Let it cook for about 1 minute, then return the shrimps to the pan.
    (cornstarch and water) Stir the cornstarch and water thoroughly to make sure they are well combined, then pour the mixture into the pan. Stir-fry the shrimps and the sauce until the sauce has become clear and thick; this should not take more than about 30 seconds.
    salt (optional) Taste the sauce for salt before you serve if, and stir it up a little on the serving platter just before you bring it to the table. (This is to make sure that no film has formed on the sauce that would spoil its bright, fresh appearance.)