Kung Pao Shrimp [and a lesson about capsaicin]

by Maris Callahan on March 31, 2011

Before we talk about the Kung Pao Shrimp recipe that I wrote for Craftzine, let’s talk about capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers. It’s what gives them spice, flavor and it’s what your fingers will be covered in after you cut or crush chili peppers for this recipe. Red chilies might sound exotic but they’re a pretty common ingredient in a lot of Mexican and Asian dishes: You can buy them in the produce section of your grocery store (they are dried chilies but usually live near the fresh chili peppers since a lot of recipes call for both).

Now, capsaicin is the reason you should not touch your eyes after handling chili peppers, even if you have washed your hands several times over the course of cooking. You should be especially cautious if you, say, wear contact lenses because you’re almost 50% legally blind and rely on them for your vision.

I only tell you this to prevent you from making the same mistakes I do. Wear gloves when you’re handling the red chilies that this recipe calls for. If you don’t have food service gloves on hand, wrap your hands in plastic wrap. If you forget this step altogether, rinse your hands with milk and lemon when you’re finished handling the peppers – it will help neutralize thecapsaicin and minimize pain if and when you do touch your eyes or face.

Now that my PSA is over, let’s talk about how delicious this recipe is. I created it after taking a cooking class at the Chopping Block that focused on spicy foods. I love it because we all think of Chinese food as being a greasy, fattening calorie bomb. This dish is a lot lighter than anything you’d get at a restaurant.

To keep those added calories, fat grams and unwanted flavors off your plate, take Kung Pao shrimp back to its roots with a little spice and the savory flavor you crave from your favorite Asian dish. While some versions of this dish use chicken or other types of seafood, shrimp are an excellent source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and selenium. Small but mighty, shrimp give you a lot of nutritional value and their crisp texture pairs wonderfully with this spicy sauce.

Kung Pao Shrimp
Serves 4

What You Need:

2 tablespoons stock (use chicken, fish or vegetable – whatever you have on hand)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon corn starch
2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 dried red chilies, whole (optional – omit if you like a milder flavor)
2 dried red chilies, crushed
¼ cup roasted peanuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, freshly grated
Steamed jasmine rice

How-To:

To make the sauce, combine the stock, mirin, dark soy sauce, sugar, salt and sesame oil. Set aside for later use. In another small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water. Set aside.

Head a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the grapeseed oil. Make sure the pan is nice and hot before you add the oil; this will help create a nice and hot surface to sauté.

Sauté the shrimp, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to overcook at this point; you’ll want to cook until they are no longer opaque and lightly caramelized.

Add the chilies, peanuts, garlic, scallion and ginger. Stir thoroughly until garlic and ginger are aromatic, for about 1 minute.

Stir cornstarch mixture to make sure that it is completely dissolved and well combined. Add sauce and cornstarch mixture to the sauté pan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute. Stir this for about 5 minutes or until shrimp is evenly coated with sauce.

Serve over your favorite rice. Jasmine rice is great with this, as its longer, fluffy grains do a nice job absorbing some of the heat from the sauce, but if you like a different variety, you can substitute your favorite.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary @ Delightful Bitefuls March 31, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Mmm mmm! This sounds amazing! I even have some shrimp waiting to be used!

Great blog; happy I found you!

Mary xo
Delightful Bitefuls

Reply

Lisa March 31, 2011 at 8:53 pm

This looks great! I’ve made a similar dish using angel hair pasta before. It’s a great noodle that works well with soy sauce based sauces!

Reply

Kristen March 31, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Oh, this sounds amazing. It’s getting bookmarked! But, at this point, I think most of your recipes are getting bookmarked. Especially when you’re working with all these chiles. Mmmmmm.

Reply

Daryl March 31, 2011 at 9:46 pm

This really does look fantastic. I like the part that it’s not as fattening as take-out Chinese.

Reply

The Teenage Taste March 31, 2011 at 10:14 pm

That Kung Pao Shrimp looks delicious! I’d love to make this next time I think of ordering take-out!

Reply

brandi@BranAppetit March 31, 2011 at 11:01 pm

That looks so good! We love Kung Pao anything and it’s even better to make it at home.

Reply

Barbara March 31, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Thanks for then info about capsaicin…I know you have to be very careful and I’ve never had a problem, but it’s nice to know all the skinny.

Kung Pao is delicious and this looks like a marvelous recipe. Still have never made it at home for some reason. Perhaps this will give me the incentive to try!

Reply

Dmarie April 1, 2011 at 12:03 am

This looks soo good! I love Kung Pao Shrimp or Chicken. Don’t have either of those on hand, so I’m going to modify your recipe to try to use up some tofu. wish me luck and thanks!

Reply

Ann April 1, 2011 at 12:10 am

Your pictures are exquisite! This is a fantastic post.

Reply

theUngourmet April 1, 2011 at 5:19 am

I used to work for a local caterer and once had to cut 15 jalapeno peppers without gloves. My hands burned for hours. Luckily I remembered not to touch my eyes! I love Kung Pao Shrimp. Delicious!

Reply

MegSmith @ Cooking.In.College April 1, 2011 at 5:20 am

I am so making this with tofu! I loved reading the info about capsaicin, I have to wear rubber gloves when I handle peppers of any kind or my hands burn really bad.

Reply

Nuts about food April 1, 2011 at 5:28 am

Hi, thanks for dropping by my blog. Now I have a new blog to discover! I love Kung Pao and would never have thought of making it at home. Thanks for the idea.

Reply

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella April 1, 2011 at 7:48 am

This is one of those dishes that we hear all about on American shows but for some reason we don’t get it here. Thanks for sharing the recipe Maris! Now I can make it and not wonder what it tastes like! :D

Reply

LimeCake April 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I’ve never ever tried kung pao shrimp or chicken and i’ve always wondered what it tastes like. I’ll definitely have to try making this!

Reply

Rosa April 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm

That looks divine! I am a sucker for such scrummy dishes.

Cheers,

Rosa

Reply

Marina April 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Wow, it looks delicious!

Reply

Roz April 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Always love that I get new info in your posts! amazing looking recipe too. Thanks Maris. Have a great day.

Reply

Nadia April 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Lovely recipe, I will have to try it soon. I am from Pakistan and am used to spicyyyy food, I think I am immune to capsaicin to some level, hehe. ;) But you’re right, chilies in the eyes = extreme pain!

Reply

Dishes of Mrs. Fish April 1, 2011 at 7:21 pm

This looks great! I love the use of all the chilies! :)
My husband’s grandparents use freshly grated crushed red pepper and it’s some tasty and potent stuff!

Reply

Cassie April 1, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I have learned the very, very hard way about chillies… I used dried Thai bird chillies to make crushed red peppers to keep on hand for pizza, pasta, etc, and one night when I was crushing them, I had to blow my nose in the middle of it; without thinking to wash my hands first. My entire face was on fire for hours.

Reply

Aggie April 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Kung Pao is one of my favorite things … because of the heat. I love peppers…hot! And b/c of that I really appreciate your PSA b/c I never wear gloves and I always have regrets. Not a good thing!!

This looks so delicious! And since I only eat seafood these days love that the star of this dish is shrimp!!

Reply

Lisa April 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve inadvertently rubbed my eyes after handling hot peppers. The worst was the ghost pepper, obviously. Burning, red eye for days, even though I barely touched it.

That said, great looking Kung Pao chicken! Always wanted to make it at home :) Hope you’re doing well, Maris – it was good to see you in my comment section again!!

Reply

Eleanor Hoh April 6, 2011 at 2:54 am

We share the same philosophy about cooking at home, so much better. I just made my version of Kung Pao except with shrimp and cashews sprinkled with chili threads that fizzle on your tongue! Magical.

Reply

Tessa April 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I made the same mistake of rubbing my eye after handling peppers a few days ago. Let’s just say my eye was red and swollen for days. Not fun. I adore shrimp and asian-inspired food, definitely putting this recipe on my “to-make” list!

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: