This salt and pepper shrimp recipe is a spin on the classic Chinese dish made right at home! It features crispy fried shrimp coated with a salty, sweet, and savory blend of aromatics and seasonings.
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Salt and pepper shrimp is one of my all-time favorite shrimp recipes. I found a recipe in a newspaper 20-plus years ago. The paper is long gone but over the years I have adjusted the original recipe to suit my style of cooking.
It's simple to make but yields the perfect texture and the best flavor. I mean, what's not to love about tender and juicy shrimp with a light, crispy exterior that's smothered in a delicious spice mix?
This mouthwatering recipe is a total crowd-pleaser and comes together in a total of 15 minutes! Serve over rice (like my homemade sushi rice) for dinner or serve as an appetizer.
What is Salt and Pepper Shrimp?
Salt and pepper shrimp is a popular Chinese seafood dish that involves frying shrimp, then seasoning it with ginger, garlic, serrano pepper, and a spice blend made with salt, pepper, and Chinese five-spice powder.
Authentic salt and pepper shrimp features large prawns that are deveined but the shell is still intact. And yes, you do normally eat the shells.
📖Why This Recipe Works
Uses Peeled Shrimp -This recipe contains all the flavors of classic salt and pepper shrimp, but uses peeled shrimp to appeal a bit more to the American palate.
Chinese 5 Spice - Traditional Cantonese recipes usually require you to make your own salt and pepper mix. To keep things simple, I make this recipe using a pre-made Chinese 5 spice powder. All that great flavor, but with a little less prep.
Fish Sauce Marinade - To infuse the shrimp with flavor inside and out, we're tossing the shrimp with fish sauce before frying. This adds an extra layer of delicious flavor, giving your homemade dish even more of a restaurant-quality taste.
🧾Salt and Pepper Shrimp Ingredients
Shrimp - You'll need 2 pounds of peeled and deveined raw shrimp for this recipe. Get the largest shrimp you can. If yours have shells they can be removed and saved to make shrimp stock.
Fish Sauce - Adds an extra layer of umami flavor.
Cornstarch - Cornstarch is the key to achieving a perfectly crispy fried exterior. I have experimented with potato starch but cornstarch was the clear winner.
Spice Blend - Our seasoning blend consists of a combination of salt, black pepper, Chinese five-spice powder, and granulated sugar. Oil - Make sure that you use a neutral oil such as vegetable oil to fry the shrimp. Other oils such as olive oil have a more recognizable taste and won't yield the best result when cooking at a high temperature.
Aromatics - We're adding tons of delicious flavor with a mixture of spring onions, minced garlic, minced ginger, and minced serrano pepper for a kick of heat.
Garnishes - I like to finish the shrimp off with a sprinkle of thinly sliced scallions or green onions and a sprinkle of fresh, chopped cilantro.
See the recipe card for exact quantities.
⏲️How to Make Salt and Pepper Shrimp
This deliciously seasoned, deep-fried shrimp tastes like you got it at one of your favorite Chinese restaurants...except you whipped it up in 15 minutes right at home!
Step 1 - Prep
The first step is to gently pat dry the shrimp with a paper towel. Too much moisture and the shrimp will steam more than it will sear. Once the shrimp is dry, place it in a large mixing bowl and toss it with the fish sauce.
In a separate bowl or freezer bag, add the cornstarch and then the shrimp. Toss gently to fully coat. Be thorough with this step. The cornstarch helps the exterior of the shrimp get crispy in the hot pan.
In a smaller bowl, mix together the salt, seasonings, and sugar and set aside.
Step 2 - Fry the Shrimp
Grab a large pan with a heavy base and add in ½ cup of oil. Set on the stove over high heat and allow the oil to heat to between 350 and 400ºF. It's important that the oil is at a high temperature to achieve the ideal crispy shrimp texture.
But it shouldn't be so hot that it burns on the outside before the middle is cooked. The 350ºF-400ºF range is perfect!
Once the oil is hot, shake any excess cornstarch off the shrimp, then carefully lower the shrimp into the hot oil. Be really gentle to prevent any splatter!
Fry the shrimp for 1 minute, then flip and fry for another 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the oil, then place it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain some of the excess oil. Work in batches to cook the remaining shrimp.
Drain the frying oil out of the pan, then wipe it clean with paper towels.
Step 3 - Season and Serve
Using the same pan you fried the shrimp in, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add in the garlic, ginger, and serrano pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for 20 seconds.
Add in the fried shrimp, the salt and pepper mixture, and half of the green onions and cilantro, then mix until the shrimp are evenly coated and the whole mixture is well-combined.
Transfer the shrimp to a serving plate of your choice, then top it off with the rest of the onion and cilantro.
🥗How to Serve Salt and Pepper Shrimp
For an appetizer try pairing this dish with steamed dumplings and homemade dumpling dipping sauce.
For the best results, I recommend frying in small batches. If you add too many shrimp to the oil at once, the temperature will drop and you won't get the perfect crispy texture we want!
More Flavorful Dinner Recipes
One of my recent favorite dinner recipes is this beef and broccoli recipe made with ground beef. Plus these tried and true favorites:
Fried shrimp is definitely best served right away. However, if you have any leftovers, they can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat, warm over low heat in a large skillet or spread the shrimp on a baking sheet and bake at 300ºF until heated through.
You can also reheat the shrimp in the air fryer if you have one. Simply cook for a couple of minutes at 350ºF!
💭 Frequently Asked Questions
You can! I usually use peeled shrimp to appeal more to the American palate, but if you like to eat the shrimp shell, then feel free to go that route. When properly cooked it is thin and crispy like a potato chip!
Yes! The Chinese five-spice powder already contains Sichuan peppercorns. However, if you want to heighten that flavor, you can use those instead of regular black pepper. Just make sure you have a spice grinder available to grind the whole peppercorns up.
Chinese five-spice powder is a blend of spices very commonly found in Chinese food dishes that contains all of the five flavors—salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. The spice blend itself is made with a mixture of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel seeds.
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📖 Printable Recipe Card
Crispy Salt and Pepper Shrimp
- 2 pounds large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup Vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 inch peiece of ginger peeled minced
- 1 teaspoon serrano pepper minced
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro chopped
- Pat shrimp dry with a paper towel. In a mixing bowl, toss shrimp with fish sauce.2 pounds large shrimp, 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- Put cornstarch in a separate bowl or freezer bag. Add shrimp and toss to coat.½ cup cornstarch
- In a small bowl, stir together salt, black pepper, Chinese five spice, and sugar Set aside.1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- In a pot with a heavy base, heat ½ cup of oil over high heat. You want it to be approximately 350 to 400 F degrees. Shake excess cornstarch off the shrimp and gently lower into the oil. Fry for 1 minute, flip fry for 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.½ cup Vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon
- Drain the oil and wipe out the pan. heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium. Cook garlic, ginger, and chili, stirring, 20 seconds. Add shrimp, salt mix, and half of the onion and cilantro. Mix to coat thoroughly. Transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with remaining onion and cilantro.2 cloves garlic, 1 inch peiece of ginger, 1 teaspoon serrano pepper, 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, 4 scallions
- Do not overcrowd your skillet or wok. Instead, work in batches so the shrimp cooks evenly.
- This recipe is best eaten immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container. Pan fry on high heat with a little oil to reheat.
- Wok or Heavy Bottom Skillet
- Paper Towels