Kung pao shrimp ready in 30 minutes! The recipe is an easy stir fry of chopped vegetables and hot peppers with succulent seafood. I toss each piece of shrimp in a sweet and spicy sauce for maximum flavor.
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Are you a spicy seafood lover? Well, then you’re in luck! This Kung pao shrimp recipe is a tasty Chinese meal that delivers both, with restaurant-quality results. I use the classic stir-fry technique to quickly cook the vegetables, protein, and sauce, all in one pan.
A mix of mild and spicy dried peppers cook first. The vegetables become crisp-tender, while the capsaicin (spicy compounds) infuses into the frying oil. Shrimp is a crustacean that cooks within minutes, so timing is essential. They briefly saute to prevent overcooking, then simmer in a spicy sauce until tender.
Marinate the shrimp
I use extra jumbo-sized shrimp,16 to 20 count (pieces per pound). This size provides a nice two to three bite portion that doesn’t cook too quickly in the hot wok. After peeling and deveining, I briefly marinate the shrimp with salt, pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil to enhance the slightly sweet taste.
Add vegetables and aromatics
Chop the crisp white onions, red and green bell peppers into large pieces. This technique adds a nice texture contrast to the dish while providing an attractive pop of color. The vegetables saute first in a wok over moderate heat, just to soften the cell walls.
Minced garlic and ginger are traditional aromatics to use in Chinese cuisine. The intense flavors add depth and warmth to the stir-fry. They cook briefly, just enough time to add a fragrant aroma without burning the delicate ingredients.
Make it spicy
To add a lingering heat that gradually builds, I use dried red chili peppers. To release the spicy capsaicin from plant membranes, carefully cut them in half. Inside the hollow shells are the hot seeds.
I remove them because I find that stir-frying the peppers in the hot fat is hot enough. However, you could add some of the seeds for a spicier kick. The heat level is easier to control, kept in larger pieces, so the taste is balanced and not difficult to eat.
Don’t overook the shrimp
Once the vegetables are crisp-tender, add the shrimp to the pan. The goal is not to brown the meat as I would do for my kung pao chicken recipe. Instead, to prevent it from turning tough and rubbery, stir-fry for two minutes, just until it starts to turn opaque. The cooking process will complete while simmering in the sauce.
Homemade kung pao sauce
To make a balanced sweet and savory sauce, add equal ratios of water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, plus a smaller amount of sesame oil. If you want to make it spicy, add some red chili flakes, chili oil, or sriracha. Place the sauce in the wok, then heat until it simmers so that the hot liquid can thicken the cornstarch slurry.
Thicken the sauce
I use a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. It’s essential to hydrate the starch molecules in double the amount of water before adding to hot liquid. This technique makes it much easier to disperse while preventing clumping of the cornstarch. Stir the sauce as you add the slurry to help distribute the mixture.
You’ll notice the consistency of the sauce rapidly changes as the starches absorb the water and swell. Once it turns into a sticky, shiny glaze, it’s ready to serve. I like to add roasted peanuts and sliced green onions on top for garnish.
Serve this with
Bloom the dried chilies in oil first
When the dried chilies are opened and sauteed in hot fat, more flavor and heat are extracted. This is because the capsaicin in the chili is a hydrophobic and fat-soluble compound, as well as, many of the flavors inside the pepper. The oil dissolves these compounds, making them easier to extract. That’s why we stir-fry it with the aromatics first, then add the liquid sauce towards the end of cooking.
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Kung Pao Shrimp
- 1 pound shrimp, raw extra-jumbo (16-20 count), peeled and deveined
- ¼ cup soy sauce, divided
- 4 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey, or maple syrup, or brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 4 teaspoons water, for cornstarch slurry
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, peanut, or canola
- 1 cup diced white onion, ¾-inch dice
- 2 cups diced bell pepper, red and green, ¾-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 8 pieces dried red chilies, cut in half and seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon sliced green onions
- If using frozen shrimp, place in a colander and run cold water over until no longer icy, about 3 minutes. Alternatively, place in a bowl and submerge in room temperature water until defrosted. Thoroughly drain, and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a medium bowl combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Allow it to marinate while preparing the other ingredients.
- In a medium bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.
- In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch and 4 teaspoons of water. Set aside.
- Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium heat. Add vegetable oil. Once hot, add the onions, stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili peppers, and cook for 1 minute.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high, then add the marinated shrimp. Stir-fry until the pieces just turn opaque, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sauce to the pan and allow it to heat, and begin to simmer, about 1 minute. Mix the cornstarch slurry and then gradually add it to the pan, stirring to combine. Stir and cook until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 60 seconds. Turn off the heat.
- Garnish with peanuts and green onions, serve immediately.
- Wok Spatula
- Recipe Yield: 3 cups
- Serving Size: ¾ cup (4 to 5 pieces of shrimp)
- Substituting Arrowroot Powder: Use 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons water for starch slurry instead of cornstarch.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute coconut aminos or gluten-free tamari for soy sauce.
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