There are two Chinese buffet joints near my office downtown. One is only a couple of blocks away and is relatively cheap. The other is nearly three times as many blocks away and runs about five dollars more per plate. The price reflects the quality of the food at both places. Needless to say, a majority of times, my lunch friends and I go to the cheap place.
Unfortunately though, the cheap place doesn't have one of my favorite Chinese fares - Crispy Salt and Pepper Shrimp.
The first time I tried it, I was a little taken aback, but instantly relished how wonderful it was. Crispy shell-on shrimp, bit of salt, pepper, and a tad bit of heat from the jalapenos.
I didn't know how they did it, but I knew that I wanted to learn how. And I knew I wanted other Chinese restaurants to offer it as well. And again unfortunately, scant few do.
A jack-pot moment came when American's Test Kitchen featured Crispy Salt and Pepper Shrimp on the show with an actual Chinese chef immigrant who couldn't understand why we Americans didn't eat shrimp this way all the time. Apparently, in Asian countries, the idea of peeling shrimp seems more than a little odd, and she said it took her a while to get used to seeing these "little pink curly things" we call peeled shrimp. To traditional Chinese chefs, peeling shrimp is the equivalent of putting ketchup on a hot dog.
With an excitement I could barely contain, I gathered the ingredients and followed the recipe (it's available free online from ATK). Once they were finished I happily dug in and thoroughly enjoyed this new weapon in my repertoire.
There are a couple lessons from this:
1. Cook them in small batches, don't do an entire pound all at once. This way you can keep a better eye on them and make sure they get done evenly
2. The shrimp shell can sometimes get caught in your teeth like when you're eating popcorn;
3. It's best to eat them all in one setting, if you put them in the fridge overnight, they pick up moisture and lose their crispness.
Crispy Salt and Pepper Shrimp is just one of many examples of Americanized versions of Chinese dishes. Of course, a ten-minute Google dive will reveal a lot more. Most Americans with an IQ above that of a kitchen chair are probably already aware that "Chinese" food is Americanized, but what they may not realize is that nearly all of the dishes were invented in America.
Until Next Time...
Here's an amateur video from the son of two Chinese immigrants who refused to allow him to eat at the Americanized restaurant they owned. Why? Because it wasn't authentic Chinese.