Chengdu Challenge #11: Dry-Braised Shrimp With Crispy Pork (Gan Shao Xia)

crispy pork

There’s nothing Sichuan won’t put crispy pork on

Unusual Juxtapositions Bring Unusual Compliments~~

In America, everything’s better with bacon on it. In Sichuan, everything’s better with crispy-brown ground pork. You might think, as I did, that big fresh shrimp don’t need the added attraction of a crispy pork topping. But you’d be wrong, as I was. This is a fantastic combination, bumped up by earthy-salty yacai (pickled mustard greens) and pickled hot chili peppers.

It’s really like two dishes in one. First, you get your hands in there to remove the shells from the fat, juicy shrimp—licking the shell clean beforehand, of course.  Then after you’ve devoured the pork-tinged shrimp, you’ve still got a bowlful of crispy, savory, shrimp-tinged pork to flavor your rice.

crispy pork

Leave the shells on!

So many Sichuan dishes are crowned with this crispy pork mince—dan dan noodles, dry-fried green beans, mapo doufu (substituting beef)—that I was happy to find an explanation of sorts in Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook (1976):

[Fish with meat sauce] exemplifies the Szechwanese taste for unusual juxtapositions of ingredients. Cooking in meat sauce, shaoz, is a favorite Szechwanese method. Mrs. Chiang makes noodles, bean curd, and eggplant that way. Like the fish, they are all marvelously spicy dishes, redolent with garlic and hot pepper paste, and are absolutely delicious.

After reading that description I’ll be making Mrs. Chiang’s fish with meat sauce very soon. But her description could apply equally well to this recipe for dry-braised shrimp with crispy pork, which came from Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English. Her meat sauce is not crispy as this is, but it’s the same basic idea.

As in most Asian shrimp dishes, the shrimp is cooked shell-on because it preserves the moisture and texture; believe me, it’s worth the sticky fingers. The only glitch is the two-step process for cooking the shrimp, with a quick dip in hot oil to pre-cook it before the stir-fry—yet another method for keeping the shrimp tender, and worth the extra effort. By all means use head-on shrimp as they would in Sichuan if you are so inclined and if you can find them.

crispy pork

Pre-frying makes for tender shrimp

The spice in this dish comes from pickled red chili peppers, a distinctly Sichuan approach to the chili pepper that is hard to find readymade in America; you pretty much have to make your own or use the reasonably good substitute of Indonesian-style sambal oelek, easily found in the U.S. See my discussion on these options here.

crispy pork

Homemade pickled chili peppers

In case you’re still thinking that this shrimp-pork combo is just weird, here’s a story about my daughter’s response the first time I made it. Seafood lover that she is, having spent her first 11 years in Guangzhou, Fong Chong has a constant craving for fish and shellfish here in land-locked Nashville.

Eating this dish for the first time, she licked her fingers in ecstasy and said, “I still think your food is better than my home food.”

Say what?!

You still think that? You’ve never said that! You’ve never thought that! You think my Chinese food is better than the Chinese food you grew up on in China?

As she confirmed that’s what she meant, Craig and I both had to steady ourselves, knowing how hard we had worked to feed her and please her over the three years she had been our daughter—and how often we had failed.

Of course I know that a lot of that love is due to the fact that  I make spicy Sichuan food, and she could seldom get her hands on that in mild-mannered Cantonese-food land.

But I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll not only take it, I’ll take it to heart, and rank it right up there as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

crispy pork

Everything’s better with crispy pork

Chengdu Challenge #11: Dry-Braised Shrimp With Crispy Pork (Gan Shao Xia)
Adapted from Sichuan (China) Cuisine in Both Chinese and English, published in China in 2010 by the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine and the Sichuan Gourmet Association.
  • 1 pound (450 grams) large shell-on shrimp
  • ¼ pound (about 100 grams) ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons chopped pickled red chilies or sambal oelek
  • 5 scallions, cut in ½-inch sections
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • ⅓ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons yacai
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  1. Cut along back of shrimp and de-vein them, leaving shell on.
  2. Heat wok on high flame until just starting to smoke. Add about a cup of peanut oil or canola oil, enough to deep-fry the shrimp in one or two batches. Heat oil to 300°F (150°C) and deep-fry shrimp until pink and partially cooked. Remove and drain on paper towel.
  3. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil and reheat until hot. Add pork and break it up into small bits as you cook. Add soy sauce, 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine and ½ teaspoon salt and continue to stir-fry until the pork is brown and lightly crispy.
  4. Add the pickled chilies, scallion, ginger and garlic and stir-fry briefly to bring out their aroma. Add stock, ya cai, 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add back the shrimp and simmer briefly, until shrimp is done and sauce is mostly absorbed. Add sesame oil and remove to a serving plate. Collect compliments.

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8 Responses

  1. Tried this last night! The deep, rich, complex flavor in this dish is nothing short of amazing. I found the Yibin Yacai easily enough here in Washington DC and I used the sambal oelek as I keep that on hand anyway.

    Mine came out a little more soupy than the picture but the flavor was so amazing my guests quickly forgot about that! We quickly downed the entire dish and vowed to make it again next week to see if we can improve the outcome to better match your picture!!

    Thank you for yet another delicious sichuan recipe. Finally, I am an avid gardner who always has tons of peppers at the end of the season so next year I will be making my own La Jiao Jang!!!

    You are bringing this wonderful culture to us by way of the food and we all owe you a debt of gratitude! Keep up the great work. Thanks again.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Thank you so much, Jim! I really appreciate the feedback and am thrilled to know your version was tasty. Your comments were a fab Christmas present!

  2. Leona forman says:

    Discovering the MaLa Project in Rio de Janeiro Brasil where there is no Chinese restaurant worth mentioning…. Avid for Chinese food I happened upon your site and fell in love. Found a Chinese grocery store in Rio that had some ( and probably most ) of the ingredients in your recepies. Was amazed that they sell the SzeChuan fermented black beans (with Ginfer) – you recommend: sac. Yang Juan Preserved Black Beans! Also dried Shitake mushrooms of various sizes and both the cooking and sipping Shiro sing cooking wines. I made the shrimp with crunchy pork bits, substituting the Ya Lai – but perpas the Jo Mei store can either get me the missing ingredients or already have them and I did not ask!
    Thank you so much for opening this new culinary adventure for me. The shrimp came out greats, even if not with every ingredient required! Best regards, Leona

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      This makes me so happy! Chinese may be the only cuisine that you can find most of the ingredients for cooking anywhere in the world. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your adventure!

  3. John says:

    This looks like it might have been the inspiration for a dish I sampled at New York’s Szechuan gourmet last week. The prawns were peeled and deveined, no la cai, and it included cut-up asparagus. But the ground pork was there in abundance, along with healthy doses of ginger and garlic, so much so that I was worried about dragon breath at the office after lunch. Looking forward to trying your version soon.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Interesting! I’ve actually never noticed this on a restaurant menu, and only know it from the culinary institute’s cookbook, but I do think the pork goes surprisingly well with the shrimp. I recently made it with the shortcut of already-peeled and deveined fresh shrimp. It was easier to make and eat, and almost as good. Thanks for writing!

  4. heikoS says:

    Greetings from Germany. What a wonderful blog you have. I made this tonight and everyone was blow away by how good it was. I made it with sambal oelek, so I’m still wondering how much better it is with pickled red chilies. I am looking forward to making all your other recipes.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Thank you! I love to hear from Europe. I feel this is an unjustly overlooked recipe, so I’m happy to know that you tried it and liked it. It’s one of my daughter’s favorites too. Thanks for writing!

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