I've been cataloging my home library with an Android app, Book Catalogue. I quite like it, particularly how you scan the ISBN codes with the phone's camera and it looks it up and adds all the details about the book.
Today, I did my Chinese cookbooks and set a few aside to go through again. One of those is Homestyle Chinese Cooking by Yan-Kit So. I have a few of her books and have found her recipes reliable, insightful and with a subtle touch in recipes.
Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce
In making this dish, the goal is to make the texture of the shrimp crisp. Thus both alcohol and ginger are to be avoided.
1 pound medium-sized fresh or frozen raw shrimp in the shell, shelled and deveined
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large green pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
4-5 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 fresh red chiles, seed and cut into small rounds (optional)
3 scallions cut into 1 inch sections white and green parts separated
2 tablespoons preserved black beans mashed with 1-2 teaspoons water 1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water or chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon egg white
Pat the shrimp dry, then add the salt, cornstarch and egg white and stir in the same direction to coat. Leave to stand, covered in the refrigerator 1-2 hours. This process gives the crisp texture looked for when cooked.
Heat the wok over medium heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl it around. Add the green pepper and stir for about 2 minutes. Remove to a dis and keep nearby. Wipe dry the wok.
Reheat over a high heat until smoke rises. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and swirl it around several times. Add the garlic, let sizzle, then the chiles, white scallions and stir a few times. ADd the mashed black beans, stirring to mix. Add the shrimp and, going to the bottom of the wok with the scoop or a metal spatula, turn and toss fo 30-60 seconds or until the shrimp are partially cooked, becoming pinkish. Lower the heat, pour in the well-stirred dissolved cornstarch stirring as it thickens. Return the green pepper to the wok and add the green scallions, continuing to stir to mix. The shrimp should be fully cooked to a turn by now. Remove to a serving plate and serve immediately.
Her introductory note about alcohol and ginger interfering with crisp shrimp seems like folklore to me but I thought I'd ask. Texture is very important to the Chinese in their food so maybe there's some basis. I don't cook shrimp very often as there are plenty of allergic members among my family and friends so I'll likely not get to experiment on her comments.
The marinade is more of a velveting than a battering and the volume of other ingredients and heat in the oil when cooking the shrimp don't really seem to match up to crisping the shrimp nor velveting them There's enough liquid in the finishing glaze to take the crisp out the shrimp coating too.
I was also interested to see how often she recommends stirring in only one direction in her dishes. I've seen this before where people think that it helps keep things from curdling such as with dairy in Indian dishes. She does it with her eggs a lot and with ground meat. I can see where you're not agitating the protein strands to tangle them up with this technique so maybe there's something to that too, but I'm a skeptic on this claim as well.