These Sichuan peppercorn prawns are a quick and easy authentic Chinese dish of dry-fryed prawns with just the right amount of numbing heat from toasted Sichuan peppercorns.
There is nothing quite like cooking prawns in their shells to retain their excellent flavor, and they go very well tossed in a sauce of Sichuan peppercorns. Although most people think of wok cooking as stir-frying, Sichuanese cooks use the wok for many other cooking techniques besides this. Dry-frying is the method used here, called gan pian, in which small pieces of food are stirred vigorously in very little oil until nearly dry.–Terry Tan
Why Our Testers Loved This
There’s a whole bunch of reasons our recipe testers devoured these spicy prawns. They loved the balanced flavor and said they were incredibly easy to make.
Lisa Amtower describes them as a “flavor bomb,” while Tracie C. called them “finger-licking good.” Makes you want to try them, doesn’t it?
Notes on Ingredients
- Prawns or shrimp–Either will work here, but make sure you purchase unpeeled ones. If you buy larger or smaller than 16/20 count, you will need to adjust your cook time accordingly.
- Sichuan peppercorns–This tingly numbing spice is the key to the balanced flavor of this dish. You can find them at Asian markets and specialty spice stores or order online.
- Peanut oil–A high smoke-point oil is necessary here. If you don’t have peanut oil, use sunflower or safflower oil. Avoid lower smoke point oils, such as olive oil, as they will burn.
How to Make This Recipe
- Prepare the prawns. Snip off the heads and remove the vein of the prawns, if necessary. Pat them dry.
- Toast the peppercorns for 1 minute over medium heat. Grind to a powder.
- Heat the oil in a wok until it begins to smoke. Add the prawns and stir-fry until they just begin to turn pink. Add the garlic, ginger, and pepper and continue to stir-fry until the prawns are cooked through.
- Toss the prawns with salt, sesame oil, and sugar. Serve immediately.
What’s the difference between prawns and shrimp?
While there are tons of differences in their body shape and where they live, for our purposes, just remember that prawns (left) tend to be larger, sweeter, and meatier than shrimp (right). They also cost a bit more, but if you can spring for them, they’re worth it.
What are Sichuan peppercorns?
Sichuan peppercorns, as their name implies, are a common ingredient in the Sichuan Province in southwest China. They’re relied on for their rather potent yet pleasing numbing effect on the lips and tongue and their surprisingly spicy yet somewhat floral taste that is the predominant flavor in mapo tofu. They’re actually not related to black peppercorns and are instead the berries of the prickly ash tree. The variety of Sichuan peppercorns that is most commonly found in the States has a reddish hue.
What should I serve with these prawns?
These are great on their own as an appetizer or can be served as part of a larger meal of steamed rice, and stir-fried lettuce, or a fresh green salad.
I don’t have a wok. What can I use to make these?
Our testers found that a 12-inch skillet worked well in place of a wok. Use a well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick skillet for best results.
Can I double the recipe?
Yes, but plan to stir-fry the prawns in two batches. Adding too many prawns at once will cause the wok to cool, and the prawns will not cook evenly.
- Store leftover prawns in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat briefly in a hot skillet or wok. We don’t recommend microwaving them.
- Make extra toasted peppercorns and use them in Szechuan spice-rubbed pork or Sichuan chicken stir-fry.
- This recipe is suitable for gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
More great shrimp recipes
☞ If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David
Sichuan Peppercorn Prawns
- 1 1/4 pounds medium prawns or shrimp (16/20 count) in their shells
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
- 4 teaspoons (1 ounce) finely grated fresh ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar (or blitz granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground but not powdery)
- If your prawns have heads attached, using kitchen scissors, trim the prawns by snipping off the feelers and the pointed top of the head just behind the eyes. Snip the shells open along the back of the prawns and cut out the vein. Wash the prawns, drain well and pat them very dry with a paper towel. If your prawns already have their heads and veins removed, pat them very dry with a paper towel.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the Sichuan peppercorns for 1 minute. Use a mortar and pestle, or spice grinder, to grind them to a powder.
- In a wok over high heat, warm the oil until it starts to smoke, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the prawns and fry, stirring vigorously until they're JUST pink, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, ginger, and Sichuan pepper, and cook, using a wooden spoon to move the ingredients backwards and forwards constantly, until the prawns are well coated with the aromatics and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes more.
- Add the salt, sesame oil, and sugar, to the wok and toss together until the prawns are dry, slightly shiny with oil, and speckled with seasonings, 15 to 30 seconds. Serve immediately.
- Storage–Store leftover prawns in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat briefly in a hot skillet or wok. We don’t recommend microwaving them.
- Scaling–If doubling the recipe, stir-fry the prawns in two batches.
- Dietary–This recipe is suitable for gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
As I’ve said before, I love anything Asian, so picking this Szechuan prawns recipe was a no-brainer. The flavor was slightly sweet, salty, and just a little bit spicy, rounded by the sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. Simply put, it was delicious.
Next time I make this dish, I’ll do it in two batches. Adding all of the shrimp at once slightly cooled down my wok, taking just a bit longer to cook. But not a deal breaker, though. Finger licking good, I tell ya.
I liked these Szechuan peppercorn shrimp. They came together quickly and weren’t hard to make.
I don’t have a wok so I used a 12-inch skillet, which worked well.
They were tasty and very well-balanced in flavor. So well balanced, in fact, that no one flavor really stood out above the others. It could’ve used something that jumped out a bit more.
Also, I was expecting to feel a bit more punch from the Sichuan peppercorns. I got a little bit of the numbing effect but no heat. Maybe I’m only used to them in chili oil, but I was expecting some spiciness which wasn’t there.
After sitting overnight, they had a much more pronounced ginger flavor. Tasted good on day two and day three, and then they were gone.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Yowza. These Sichuan shrimp are a flavor bomb of three of my favorite ingredients. And so easy to make, they’ll become a regular part of the rotation. I made them for lunch, and when the last one was gone, I wanted more.
I couldn’t find Sichuan peppercorns, so I used India Special Extra Bold. Toasted and crushed, the pepper with the ginger and garlic was perfectly balanced. I like the hit of sesame oil at the end of cooking.
The shrimp made my mouth tingle (bring it!), so to mellow out the meal, I made a romaine and parsley salad with tahini balsamic dressing. This made a quick and delicious lunch that my husband enjoyed. The only tweak I made was to increase the garlic, as I always do.
I always have shrimp in the freezer, so I’ll make this again soon. It might serve four as an appetizer, but people will clamor for more.