The Shanghainese adore this you bao xia (油爆虾) , a Shanghai-style shrimp stir-fry is my preferred recipe for cooking whole shrimp.
You really don’t see this dish anywhere outside of the Zhejiang/Shanghai area. Zhejiang is famous for its seafood, as well as its ancient water towns like Zhou Zhuang (周庄), Wu Zhen (乌鎮) and Xi Tang (西塘). Fun fact: They filmed a good portion of Mission Impossible III in Xi Tang! If you ever travel to China, make a point to visit as least one of these ancient water towns. It’s extremely picturesque-all your photos will resemble ancient Chinese paintings!
I mention ancient water towns here because the right shrimp to use for this shrimp stir-fry dish are actually fresh water shrimp. I know most Shanghainese prefer them over the salt water variety. We’re just using regular shrimp from the ocean here in this recipe, since it’s the unique cooking method (not necessarily the origins of the main ingredient) that makes this particular shrimp stir-fry outstanding.
I found out that this was actually Bill’s first time tasting this You Bao Xia dish. As he was happily chowing down, he mentioned that it might even be tastier than our Salt and Pepper Shrimp recipe. And that’s pretty high praise, because I know how good those are. Just take one look at the color and texture of this dish…you can’t go wrong. It’s a shrimp stir-fry dish that will surely impress guests-even yourself!
You must use whole, shell-on shrimp for this stir-fry, preferably with the heads still in tact. Do not cut the shell open, or the shrimp will dry out. (We have a special method to devein the shrimp without damaging the outer shells!) One last tip, don’t peel off the shells until you taste the shrimp first. There’s a lot of flavor there, and who knows? You might decide to eat the whole thing.
Start by preparing the shrimp. Using kitchen shears, trim off the legs and the sharp pointy part at the top of the head.
Then devein the shrimp by using a toothpick to carefully expose and pull it out, without damaging the shell (see the photo!). Rinse the shrimp thoroughly, drain, and pat dry with a paper towel.
Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it just starts to smoke. Carefully lower the shrimp into the oil in two batches, frying gently for about 5 – 10 seconds with each batch.
The shrimp will go opaque very quickly.
Immediately scoop them out into a metal strainer, to drain excess oil back into the wok. Set the shrimp aside. With the first frying, shrimp will turn a light pink color as shown below.
Now, let the oil heat up again until it’s smoking. Lower the shrimp into the oil again (in two separate batches), and fry for another 5 – 10 seconds. The frying time varies depending on shrimp size-over frying will dry out the shrimp.
Scoop the shrimp out, and set aside. With the second frying, shrimp will turn deeper pink.
Turn off the heat and scoop out the oil into a heat-proof bowl, leaving about 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok. Turn the heat on to low and add in the scallion whites and ginger. Cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Add the Shaoxing wine, chicken broth, sugar and Chinese black vinegar. Turn up the heat, so the mixture comes to a simmer. Stir for 30 seconds to reduce the sauce.
At this point, you can remove the scallions and ginger if you like and discard. Or you can leave them in the dish! We decided to take the aromatics out of the wok this time around.
Finally, add the shrimp back to the wok along with the sesame oil. Stir-fry for 5 seconds, until the shrimp are coated in the sauce.
Add salt to taste, and serve this Shanghai shrimp stir=fry (you bao xia) hot out of the wok!.
One More Tip: There is a lot of shrimp flavor in that frying oil! It’s perfect for use in our Shrimp Pad Thai, or our Shrimp Etouffee.