After eating a delicious preparation of “Salt and Pepper Prawns” at a P.F. Chang’s restaurant, I decided to see if I could re-create a similar entrée at home without resorting to unusual or special ingredients. And, I was surprised at how easy it was to make a recipe adaptation. P.F. Chang’s continues to be one of our favorite restaurants with an Asian-inspired theme. The creative flavors — hot, spicy, sweet and sour — and attractive presentation of the food always make a pleasing and memorable meal. We like to visit the restaurant at some time during the holiday season; however, this year we ordered a take-out meal due to the Covid-19 pandemic. My entrée, “Salt and Pepper Prawns with Lime and Chili Dipping Sauce” was just right. I tried adapting their recipe, and mine is pretty good, too!
P.F. Chang’s was founded in 1993 by Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang and it is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. They have expanded over the years, with over 200 restaurants in their chain. The menu features “Asian cuisine” and includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thailand, Vietnam menu items and probably more. According to their Web site, the ingredients used in recipes are fresh ones, prepared daily “from scratch” and the wok is the center of meal preparation. It is easy to see the appeal of this restaurant — there is something for everyone.
My Unusual Introduction to P.F. Chang’s Menu
My first experience with P.F. Chang’s was a little unusual. Do you ever run across a situation which leaves you speechless? This was my introduction to P.F. Chang’s restaurant and its menu. A new (but experienced) nurse came to work with us on the night shift at our hospital unit. P.F. Chang’s restaurant was relatively new in town and the nurse apparently liked the food. Every night when we worked together, the nurse ordered a meal from P.F. Chang’s to be delivered to our nursing unit. The nurse worked for several hours and then settled down in the break room, opened her carry-out boxes and treated herself to a stylish Chinese supper. Every night was a different meal. And so that is how I learned of the fabulous array of entrees, soups and appetizers offered at P.F. Chang’s. In my opinion, the food was a just a bit too upscale and exotic for an ordinary supper meal while at work. But I loved seeing what was offered, and of course, ordered some of those foods when we went to the restaurant to eat there ourselves.
Salt and Pepper Prawns
P.F. Chang’s “Salt and Pepper Prawns” was great. My goal was to make the dish at home while avoiding uncommon ingredients. With my recipe substitutions, I probably wouldn’t call my dish “authentic Chinese.” But it is tasty and easy to make! In addition to the shrimp and oil for frying, my recipe includes only three ingredients — course sea salt, fresh black cracked peppercorns and cornstarch. I don’t have Szechuan peppers in my pantry which are used in P.F. Chang’s recipe and substituted black cracked peppercorns. Many recipes for “Salt and Pepper Shrimp” use rice flour for the breading. I substituted cornstarch and this ingredient worked well. It made a crispy breading.
Shrimp vs Prawns
The key ingredient in this recipe, of course, is the shrimp. Shrimp or prawns? Does it matter? Shrimp and prawns are related but slightly different. However, they can be used interchangeably in most recipes. In Louisiana, we’ll probably find shrimp in grocery and seafood markets. There are a few technical differences between shrimp and prawns for folks like me who need to know. They breed and grow in different types of water. Prawns tend to be larger. The legs are slightly different. Prawns have three pairs of claw-like legs, while shrimp have only one pair. Prawns also have longer legs than shrimp. The way the three segments of the body overlaps is different. In shrimp, the thorax overlaps the head and the abdomen. But in prawns, each segment overlaps the segment below it. Therefore, shrimp can bend their bodies sharply. So, I’m cooking shrimp (not prawns) which are found in the Gulf waters of Louisiana.
You need gumbo, whole shrimp with the shells intact. (The larger the shrimp, the better.) We are lucky to have a local grocery store — Rouses — which carries these fresh shrimp. This is 1 lb and 6 oz shrimp. These are about 20 count shrimp (20 shrimp to the pound) and just the right amount for two to three people.
Making the Recipe
To make the shrimp recipe, wash the shrimp and pat dry. Remove the heads. They are easily sliced off with a knife. Some recipes will instruct you to cut a slit down the spine and devein or remove the black intestinal vein. This is optional — it does take alot of effort.
Mix the salt, fresh ground peppercorns and cornstarch. Gently coat the shrimp with this breading. It is difficult to mix the course salt with the cornstarch, so coat a few shrimp at a time. Heat about 1/2 cup of peanut oil or canola oil in a wok or heavy cast iron skillet until it shimmers and begins to smoke. Do not use olive oil — you need an oil that can be heated to a high temperature. Then turn down the heat at bit. Place some of the shrimp in the oil in a single layer and fry on the first side for only one to two minutes. Turn over and fry second side. Adjust the temperature of the oil as needed. It doesn’t take long until the shrimp are pink, crispy and cooked — just a few minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining shrimp replenishing the oil if needed.
These shrimp can be served “as is.” You can eat the crispy shells (but not the tails) or peel them.
Often this dish is served with a dipping sauce. The P.F. Chang’a version is served with sweet “Lime and Chili Dipping Sauce.” Recipes for this sauce can be found on the internet.
I like several of my own dipping sauces which I have posted in past blogs. Some have an oriental theme, several are just tasty with shrimp. These sauces include Traditional New Orleans Remoulade Sauce, Raisin’ Cane’s Chicken Dippin’ Sauce, Sweet and Spicy Sriracha Sauce and Ranch Dipping Sauce. In addition, it is easy to make your own cocktail sauce by mixing 1/2 cup Chili Sauce and 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 2 tsp horseradish sauce. Shown in the photo is a very simple sauce made with lemon juice, fresh garlic, Dijon mustard and olive oil. Here are the blog links to several of these dipping sauces:
In any event, we have “Crispy Salted Shrimp” using ingredients that are commonly found in the kitchen. Nothing special. But these shrimp are just as delicious as the ones from P.F. Chang’s. It is an easy recipe! Enjoy.
The Chinese New Year in 2021 is coming up, too — February 12 to February 26 (although only the first week is typically celebrated). It’s the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac. Now I have a Chinese-inspired dish to prepare in honor of this holiday!
Crispy Salted Shrimp from Maylees Kitchen
- 1 lb (20 count) fresh, jumbo shrimp with shells intact
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 tsp course sea salt
- 1/8 tsp fresh ground black peppercorns (optional)
- 1/2 cup peanut or canola oil, more as needed
- assorted dipping sauces of choice
Method and Steps:
- Wash and pat jumbo shrimp dry.
- With sharp knife remove head, leaving shell and tail intact.
- If desired, devein shrimp: cut slit down back and remove black, intestinal vein.
- In small bowl, mix cornstarch, course sea salt and fresh ground black peppercorns (optional).
- Heat 1/2 cup peanut or canola oil in heavy cast iron skillet or wok until shimmering and beginning to smoke. Reduce heat slightly.
- Coat about half the shrimp in cornstarch mixture, tossing gently to mix.
- Place breaded shrimp in a single layer in hot oil. Fry about one to two minutes on first side. Turn over and fry until shrimp are pink and coating is crispy. Adjust temperature of oil to avoid burning shrimp. Remove shrimp and drain on paper towels.
- Repeat with remaining shrimp, replenishing oil as needed.
- Serve with dipping sauces of choice.