Oh I know what you were thinking when I said I was making ketchup shrimp on Episode 4.
Ew, ketchup? That’s an insult to shrimp.
But trust me, ketchup shrimp is a nuanced and complex dish. If I didn’t mention its main ingredient in the title, you wouldn’t even know it had ketchup.
But I think ketchup is great, so I let the dish wear its name loud and proud. So what’s the story behind it?
Ketchup shrimp is a treasured Tom family recipe. I’ve eaten it for as long as I can remember. Without fail, my dad makes it for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but he’s also known to make it just because. And why not? It just takes a few pantry ingredients + shrimp. It seriously takes 10 minutes or so.
But ketchup shrimp isn’t a Tom family invention. In fact, it’s a staple in many Chinese-American households. When you think about it, ketchup is a magical ingredient. It’s sweet, a little tart, and has tons of umami, a “meatiness” that fills your mouth.
When Bobby and Giada announced that our challenge was to make a typical weeknight meal, I immediately thought of ketchup shrimp. It's fast, interesting, and has a bonus: if someone else got the shrimp before I did, you can easily use this same recipe (with some considerations for the meat) with chicken or pork.
1 lb shrimp, cleaned with shells on
10 cloves garlic
3-inch knob of ginger
1 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup ketchup
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar (if you don’t have this, you can substitute rice vinegar or even balsamic vinegar)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Peel ginger. Finely dice the garlic and ginger. Heat a frying pan on medium. Add oil and heat until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant and golden, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the garlic and ginger, while keeping the oil in the pan.
Increase heat to high. Add the shrimp in the fragrant oil and saute for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the shells have a bit of color on them. Remove the shrimp and add them to the garlic and ginger.
Mix all the remaining ingredients together -- ketchup, hoisin sauce, black vinegar, and worcestershire sauce. Add to the hot pan and reduce for one minute, until just slightly thickened. Add the shrimp, garlic, and ginger and stir, coating the shrimp with the sauce. Keep stirring until the sauce is thick and clinging to the shrimp, about one minute more.
TIPS & TRICKS
One of my goals as a cooking teacher is to eliminate the need for a cooking teacher. So I try to explain why steps are the way they are. For example, why do you cook the garlic and ginger first, remove them, and then add the shrimp? Well, garlic is notorious for burning and turning bitter, so it needs to be cooked at a medium heat. Shrimp needs a high heat to achieve browning. When you saute the ginger and garlic on medium first, you ensure you don’t burn the garlic, and you also flavor the oil for the shrimp.
This dish is endlessly adaptable. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever made the same version twice. Sometimes I’ll add sriracha, sometimes soy sauce or fish sauce. Sometimes I’ll add sesame oil. The proportions are very flexible, so feel free to experiment.
Yes, keep the shell on! The shell has so much flavor. Think of it this way -- seafood stock is made from crustacean shells. By keeping the shells on, you are getting both the meat, and a super-concentrated “broth”.
So you have the shell on, how do you eat it? That's up to you. Personally, I suck the sauce and use my tongue and teeth to finagle the meat out. Sometimes some shell will accompany your bite… just spit it out. My husband peels the shrimp, and then swipes up the sauce on the serving plate. Whatever floats your boat, but remember -- shells are your friend!