Kung! Pow! Shrimp!

by Sarah on February 15, 2011

Jumbo shrimp. It’s the oldest oxymoron joke in the book.  But jumbo shrimp, these were.

Well, actually they were colossal.

I bought ‘em on accident.  I was at the Costco, it was like 5:30 on a weekday and the place was a madhouse.  People swarming the ends of aisles where the hair-netted ladies were busily handing out samples of whatever frozen convenience foods they were trying to unload that particular day.  I was just trying to get a few things for a party and get out of there.   I guess half the population of Sacramento was just trying to get a few things too.

Anyway, I usually grab the regular sized shrimp– small or medium, which in technical terms are called U-55 or U-45.  Meaning you get 55 shrimp per pound for small, and 45 shrimp per pound for medium.

What I bought were Colossals.  Which are usually U-12 or U-14.  You would typically get between 9 and 14 per pound.  They were about the size of my hand.  Hey, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I just wasn’t paying attention.  You just have to cook them a little longer.

This particular night, like many nights, I had no ideas about what to cook when I entered the kitchen.  There was plenty of food but nothing planned.

It was a night for condiments.

In UC-speak, this would most likely mean stir-fry or some kind of Asian dish.  Because I collect Asian condiments like some other more reasonable person would collect Faberge eggs.  Or shot glasses.  Or baseball cards.  What I horde are several kinds of soy sauce, Sriracha, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sambal olek, hoisin, plum sauce, black bean paste, char sui….not to mention oils, vinegars, various colors of sesame seeds, etc…etc….etc…..

Now, I’m no expert on Asian cooking, but as with most cooking, it helps to have all your ducks in a row.  I mean your mise en place (“everything in it’s place”).  I mean all of your ingredients.  Have them chopped up and put the things that go in the wok or pan at the same time together in the same bowl.  Have your sauces ready too.

Stir-frying goes FAST.  Really fast.  Because you’ve got your wok or pan cranked up as high as it will go.  You’ll have no time to stop and chop an onion to put in because your chili or garlic will have burnt to a crisp.

Look, it’s a strategy. First goes the oil, of course.  Use an oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable oil, or peanut oil.  Whatever you do, don’t use sesame oil–which you’d think would work great because it would impart that great flavor, right?  Wrong.

Sesame oil, like extra-virgin olive oil, has a very low smoke point, so if you use it with the heat cranked up like that, it will just smoke all over the place and your smoke detector will go off and then your house will smell funny for three days.  So just don’t go there.

After the oil go the aromatics.

Chilies, onion, ginger, garlic—things that smell good and that will flavor the oil.  Just cook until you smell them–30 seconds to a couple minutes, if that–you don’t want them to burn.

Add in the things that will take the longest.  The meat, if using.  The whites of the bok choy.  Carrots, celery.  *A tip*  If you are cooking meat or chicken, sear it off, then take it out and set aside while you do the rest of the veggies.  Add it back at the end.  Overcooked meat sucks.

Keep going in stages, adding the next set of ingredients that take the 2nd-longest, etc.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

When you are about finished, that’s when you can add the things that literally take one minute.  Like greens of any kind.  The tops of the bok choy, the green parts of green onions, spinach, or these greens that I got at the farmer’s market.  They wilt down and cook practically immediately.

I don’t know what kind of greens they are.  Guido just thought they looked good.  (And they were).

Add the sauce you’ve mixed up in advance.  Use whatever you like, but for this kung pao recipe, I’ve got the juice of an orange, some soy, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch.

I typically just mix up a bunch of random stuff….soy, sesame oil, hot sauce…then add a bit of cornstarch so that when you add it to the pan it thickens pleasingly.  Once it does, you can turn off the heat.

Almost done!

Add in some crunch.  Here I’ve got walnuts and the tops of the green onions.  Some chopped cilantro went in there too.  Again, the possibilities are endless:  Toasted sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, chives…whatever turns you on.

Last but not least…

NOW you can add some sesame oil.  The heat’s off and you won’t burn it.  And because you’re not burning it up, you’ll actually taste it.  And you’ll smile and be happy.

Serve with rice.

You made rice, right?

adapted loosely from Joyce Jue in Food and WineMag

Kung Pao Shrimp


  • 1 orange, juiced--pulp is ok
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1 Tbsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks (I used 1/2 red and 1/2 yellow)
  • 1/2 cup celery, cut on the bias
  • 2 cups greens--spinach, bok choy or kale, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green onions, cut on the bias, white and green parts separated
  • 1-1/2 lb shrimp, de-veined and shells removed
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1-2 tsp sesame oil


  • In bowls, combine and set aside (This is your mise en place--this is the order you'll use them):
  • 1. Yellow onion chunks, garlic and sliced celery.
  • 2. The white parts of the green onion and bell peppers.
  • 3. The prepared shrimp.
  • 4. The leafy greens.
  • 5. The first five listed ingredients in a small bowl for the sauce (soy, vinegar, etc).
  • 6. The walnuts, green tops of the green onions and cilantro.
  • Heat your wok or pan over the highest heat. When hot, add the oil and let heat up. Add the chili flakes for about 10 seconds, then immediately add the onion, garlic and celery. Stir-fry about a minute, or until fragrant.
  • Next add the bowl with the bell peppers. Toss about until just barely softened. Add in the shrimp and stir until they are pink.
  • Add the greens and toss until they begin to wilt. Add the sauce and stir until it begins to thicken. Turn off the heat.
  • Toss in the walnuts, green onion tops and cilantro, then drizzle on the sesame oil. Toss all together to combine.
  • Serve over steamed rice.

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