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
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.
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 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 are only 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.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Yowza. These shrimp are a flavor bomb of three of my favorite ingredients, and so easy to make they will 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 will be making this again soon.
Might serve 4 as an appetizer, but people will clamor for more.
Again, I love anything Asian, so picking this recipe was a no-brainer for me. The flavor was slightly sweet, salty, and just a little bit of spice, rounded by the sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. Simply put, it was delicious.
Next time I make this dish, I will do it in 2 batches. Adding all of the shrimp at once slightly cooled my wok down, taking just a bit longer to cook. But not a deal breaker. Finger licking good, I tell ya.
I liked these Sichuan 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 none of the flavors really stood above any of the other flavors. Kind of 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 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.
I liked them and the flavor was good but they weren’t mind-blowing. Nice overall!
Originally published February 13, 2021