Despite not being indigenous to China, Hunan shrimp stands as one of the country’s most beloved seafood dishes.
It was first developed by Chinese immigrants who settled in the United States during the late 19th century and brought their culinary traditions with them.
The name ” Hunan” refers to the province where they originated, but the dish itself has become an international favorite due to its unique flavor profile.
If you’re new to this delicious dish, here are all the details you need to know.
You can also check out some recipes below that will give you an idea of how to get started making your own.
What Is Hunan shrimp?
Hunan shrimp is made from freshwater white prawns (also known as tiger prawns) that have been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and crushed garlic.
The dish is then cooked in a wok or skillet over medium heat until the shrimp turns pink and opaque.
The dish is usually served piping hot, which helps bring out the natural sweetness of the shrimp.
Some restaurants may serve the dish chilled, but this will result in a less flavorful dish.
While freshwater white prawns are widely available throughout the year, there are seasonal variations in the availability of these crustaceans.
As such, the seasonality of the Hunan shrimp varies depending on the location where it originates, so be sure to check out the best times to buy fresh shrimp before you go shopping.
For example, summertime is typically when you should be able to find the freshest shrimp.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, winter is typically when you’ll want to look for Hunan shrimp.
While you might think that buying frozen shrimp would work just fine, you’ll actually end up with a more bland dish if you do so.
Where Does Hunan Shrimp Originate From?
The Hunan province in China is home to thousands of years of history and culture.
In fact, it was once part of the ancient Silk Road trading route, which connected China to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.
As such, the cuisine of the region is richly diverse.
One of the main staples of Chinese cooking is rice, and it plays a big role in Hunan cuisine.
Rice is often paired with other ingredients like vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry to create different dishes.
One of the most famous examples of this is the classic Hunan-style beef stew, which combines ground beef with onions, carrots, cabbage, green peppers, peanuts, and bamboo shoots.
Another famous dish that originated in Hunan is fried rice, which uses rice flour instead of regular rice.
In addition to rice, another important ingredient in Hunan cuisine is chili peppers.
Chili pepper is used to add spice to many dishes, including Hunan shrimp.
There are two types of Hunan shrimp: red-cooked and yellow-cooked.
What Are the Benefits of Eating Hunan Shrimp?
Despite being a relatively simple dish, eating Hunan shrimp can have some serious health benefits.
Because of its high content of protein, fiber, iron, zinc, calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids, it’s a great choice for people looking to improve their overall nutrition.
Since Hunan shrimp is loaded with nutrients, it can help you fight diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
In fact, according to some studies, eating Hunan shrimp may reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by 30%.
Additionally, the presence of antioxidants in the shrimp may also help lower your risk of contracting certain types of cancers.
Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells against damage caused by free radicals, which are molecules that can cause cell death.
Lastly, because Hunan shrimp contains no cholesterol, it’s considered a healthy alternative to red meat.
However, since it does contain fat, it’s still recommended to limit your intake of the dish if you have any existing conditions related to heart disease or diabetes.
Tips for perfect Hunan shrimp
When selecting fresh Hunan shrimp, look for bright orange flesh and firm shells.
The shell should be tightly shut and smooth, without any signs of cracks or holes.
The skin of the shrimp should be tight and shiny, and the eyes should be clear and full of life.
If you notice any other signs of deterioration, discard the shrimp immediately.
To clean the shrimp before cooking, remove the head and tail and rinse under cold water to remove any remaining debris from the body.
Then, pat dry using paper towels.
How to choose Hunan shrimp
There are three main types of Hunan shrimp, each with different flavors, textures, and shapes.
Regular Hunan shrimp (also known as “red river shrimp”) have a milder taste than the others.
They come from rivers and streams in southern China.
Jumbo shrimp are larger than regular ones, usually measuring between two and four inches long.
Their flavor tends to be more intense, so they take longer to cook.
Large prawns are bigger than jumbo shrimp, with a length reaching up to five inches.
These are often served raw, which means that they don’t need to be cooked at all.
Whatever type of Hunan shrimp you decide to buy, always choose fresh, high quality products.
Remember that you’ll need to keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to eat them, so make sure the package is sealed well and is free of any odors.
Variations on the recipe
You’ll find many variations on Hunan shrimp depending on what part of China you’re from, or even what region of China you’re living in today.
The dish itself originates from the Hunan Province in central China, but there are regional variations in the ingredients used, as well as cooking methods.
Here are some common Hunan shrimp recipes you might want to try if you have access to fresh shrimp, or if you’re just looking for a quick and easy meal.
Sichuan Style Hunan Shrimp
Hunan Shrimp Fried Rice
Shredded Chicken and Vegetable Hunan Shrimp
Honey Garlic Hunan Shrimp
Spicy Sesame Ginger Hunan Shrimp
If you don’t live near any seafood markets, you may be able to purchase frozen shrimp at local grocery stores, although they won’t taste quite the same as freshly caught ones.
If you do end up buying frozen shrimp, keep in mind that they tend to lose moisture over time, so you may want to cook them ahead of time before serving.
Here is a simple Hunan Shrimp recipe for you:
1 1/2 tablespoon chili paste
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 large minced garlic cloves
1 lb peeled and deveined medium shrimp
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tbsp peanut oil divided
2 cups chopped fresh green beans
2 green onions, sliced into 1 inch pieces
In a medium bowl, whisk together the chili paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, honey, chicken stock and garlic.
Toss the shrimp in the cornstarch to coat.
Heat half the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat.
Add the shrimp to the pan and cook until no longer translucent, approximately 2-3 minutes.
Remove from the pan.
Add the remaining oil to the pan.
Stir in the green beans and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the onions and continue cooking for 1 minute.
Return the shrimp to the pan and toss to combine.
Stir in the sauce and cook for 2 more minutes or until the sauce thickens.
Serve immediately over rice or rice noodles, if desired.
There are many ways to cook Hunan shrimp, from stir-frying it to steaming it.
Here are some examples of how to use this versatile ingredient.
Sautéed Hunan shrimp with garlic sauce
Steamed Hunan shrimp
Crispy Hunan shrimp
Spicy Hunan shrimp with vegetables
Hunan shrimp with noodles
Hunan shrimp with rice
Hunan shrimp with eggs
For more ideas, check out these recipes for serving different kinds of fish or meat dishes with Hunan shrimp.
Hunan shrimp history
Shrimp and other sea creatures have been eaten for thousands of years around the world.
The earliest evidence of cooked shrimp dates back to over 7,000-year-old cave paintings from Southern France, which show that they were considered a delicacy by early humans.
In fact, the word “shrimp” comes from the Latin term for “small prawn.”
Shrimps were introduced into China at least 2,500 years ago, although they weren’t eaten regularly until later on.
In the 17th century, the Ming Dynasty emperor ordered his cooks to start preparing shrimps as part of everyday meals.
This tradition continued through the mid-20th century, when the government even began promoting the consumption of shrimps as a form of national nutrition.
By the 1970s, however, the popularity of shrimps had waned because of concerns over pollution and scarcity of natural resources.
But then came the Hunan Shrimp, which became so popular that it eventually led to the creation of the entire Shrimp industry in Hunan Province in China.
Since then, Hunan Shrimp has become a staple dish across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Today, there are more than 20 million tons produced annually by farmers in Hunan Province alone.
How to cook Hunan shrimp
Cooking time for Hunan shrimp depends on the size of the shrimp you use.
If you buy large ones, they’ll take between 15 minutes and 30 minutes to cook.
Medium or smaller sized shrimp will take anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes.
To ensure that your Hunan shrimp is well-cooked, follow these steps:
Wash the shrimp under running water.
Place the shrimp in a bowl filled with ice water for about 5 minutes.
Remove the shrimp from the ice bath and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat.
Add the shrimp and fry them until they turn pink.
Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.
FAQs about Hunan shrimp
I love Hunan shrimp, but I don’t like hot food or spicy foods!
Can I still enjoy this dish?
There’s no reason you can’t add chili peppers to your recipe.
Just be sure to use milder varieties of chilies for a less spicy taste, and adjust the amount of heat depending on how much spice you prefer.
Is there any way to avoid using MSG in my Hunan shrimp?
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a common ingredient used in many Asian restaurants.
Because of the popularity of Hunan shrimp, MSG is often included in the recipe as a flavoring agent.
If you want to make your dish without it, try replacing it with saltine crackers instead.
They have the same salty and savory taste.
How long should I marinate Hunan shrimp in the sauce before cooking?
This depends on the type of sauce you’re using.
If you’re making your own sauce, you should let the shrimp soak in it for anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours.
The longer you let the shrimp sit in the sauce, the more flavors you can incorporate into the dish.
If you’re buying prepared Hunan shrimp, you’ll probably see very little information regarding the time required to marinate them.
Most of the time, the shrimp will just need to be refrigerated until the night of the meal.
If you’re planning to serve them later than that, they might benefit from being soaked in the sauce overnight.
If you’d like to take things up a notch, you could try soaking the shrimp in the sauce for a minute or two beforehand to ensure that it penetrates the meat better.
This step is optional, though, since the shrimp will continue to absorb the flavors even after you put them in the pan.
What is the difference between fresh and frozen Hunan shrimp?
Freshness is usually a major factor when purchasing shrimp, which is why we recommend choosing the freshest ones possible.
Frozen shrimp is always going to be cheaper than fresh, but if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, we highly recommend buying fresh.
In terms of quality, frozen shrimp is going to be just as good as fresh, but you might notice a slight difference in texture.
When you cook frozen shrimp, the texture tends to be firmer than when you cook fresh shrimp.
This is because the freezing process breaks down the protein structure of the meat, resulting in a tougher product.
Fresh shrimp, on the other hand, doesn’t freeze well, so they retain their moisture better.
How to use Hunan shrimp to make other dishes
You can serve Hunan shrimp on top of rice and vegetables for a simple meal or pair it with noodles and rice for a more complex meal.
The versatility of this dish makes it easy to mix and match with different flavors and textures.
Here are a few ways to incorporate Hunan shrimp into your meals:
Use Hunan shrimp as part of a stir-fry.
Add sliced onions, green bell peppers, and mushrooms along with a little bit of soy sauce, water, and cornstarch to form a thick paste.
Then, coat the shrimp with the paste and set aside until the mixture cools.
Heat up a wok or large skillet over high heat and then add the shrimp and vegetables.
Cook for 1 to 2 minutes before adding the sauce and remaining ingredients.
Return to a boil, stirring often, and continue cooking until everything turns bright red and the shrimp turns opaque.
Make Hunan shrimp pasta.
Combine a small amount of olive oil, minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt in a bowl.
Toss the shrimp with the olive oil mixture and set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook penne pasta according to package directions.
Drain the pasta and return to the pot.
Add the shrimp and toss to coat all the strands.
Pour in the sauce and stir well to combine.
Use hunan shrimp to make a quick appetizer dip.
In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, and chili sauce.
Slice up the shrimp and toss them in the mixture.
Season the dip with salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Tips for perfect Hunan shrimp
Whether you’ve never cooked Hunan shrimp before or you just want to learn more about the process, keep reading to find out everything you need to know.
1. Buy fresh seafood.
Fresh seafood is best when cooking Hunan shrimp.
If you have access to local fish markets, you should be able to buy live shrimp there, which means that they’re already dead and ready to cook.
However, if you don’t have easy access to a good seafood market, frozen shrimp is usually a safe bet.
Just make sure to choose the largest shrimp you can find, as they’ll cook faster than smaller ones.
2. Use dry rice wine instead of water.
There are many different types of rice wines available.
Some of them may contain additional ingredients like sugar, while others are naturally sweet.
So, depending on what kind of rice wine you prefer, you may want to use a different liquid in the recipe.
3. Cook the shrimp until it turns red.
The color of the finished product is very important.
When you start cooking Hunan shrimp, you’ll notice that the shells turn red quite quickly.
This is because of the high amount of chili pepper in the mixture.
Once the shrimp starts turning red, you have to stop cooking immediately so that the dish doesn’t end up having too much heat.
4. Add salt after cooking.
To properly season your final dish, you’ll need to add salt at the end of cooking.
Since the shrimp is already packed with spices, you won’t need to add any other seasoning after cooking.
However, adding salt at the end is necessary since the shrimp is still hot from being cooked.
5. Enjoy your meal.
Finally, once you have reached the end of the cooking process, you can enjoy your delicious Hunan shrimp!
Variations on the recipe
There are many variations on the original Hunan shrimp dish.
Some people like to add scallions or green onions to the mix.
Others prefer to use red bell pepper instead of green ones.
The traditional seasoning blend includes soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper.
But you can experiment with other spices and herbs if you’d like.
You can prepare the Hunan shrimp as a main course, or serve it as part of a larger meal.
If you choose to do so, you may want to consider adding vegetables such as broccoli florets, snow peas, or chopped spinach to the pan when cooking the shrimp.
This way, you’ll have something to eat while the shrimp cooks.
How to make Hunan shrimp with ginger and lemongrass
This simple version of the Asian seafood dish uses fresh lemongrass and ginger, which makes it ideal for those who don’t enjoy spicy food.
This recipe calls for small shrimp, but you can substitute large shrimp if you prefer.
You can even replace the shrimp with squid rings, cut up lobster tails, or any type of meaty fish fillet.
There are many different ways to serve Hunan shrimp.
The easiest way is to buy frozen shrimp already cooked and ready to go.
If you’d rather cook your own, however, there are several different methods you can try.
Grilled or broiled:
This method is a bit more involved than simply throwing shrimp into the oven.
However, if you have access to a grill, it’s definitely worth seeking out.
Just keep in mind that you’ll want to cook these for about 3 minutes per side.
Another great option is pan-frying your shrimp.
Cooked shrimp is quick to prepare and easy to eat, so this method is ideal for busy evenings.
Plus, it’s pretty much foolproof!
When you’re looking for a simple way to serve up this tasty seafood dish, stir-fry is the answer.
All you need to do is chop up some veggies, throw them in a wok with some oil, and then add the shrimp.
Once everything starts cooking, toss the shrimp around to coat with the other ingredients.
- 1 medium bowl
- 1 Skillet
- 1 1/2 tablespoon chili paste
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1/2 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 garlic cloves large minced
- 1 lb medium shrimp peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tbsp peanut oil divided
- 2 cups green beans chopped fresh
- 2 green onions sliced into 1 inch pieces
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the chili paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, honey, chicken stock and garlic.
- Toss the shrimp in the cornstarch to coat.
- Heat half the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat.
- Add the shrimp to the pan and cook until no longer translucent, approximately 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the pan.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan.
- Stir in the green beans and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the onions and continue cooking for 1 minute.
- Return the shrimp to the pan and toss to combine.
- Stir in the sauce and cook for 2 more minutes or until the sauce thickens.
- Serve immediately over rice or rice noodles, if desired.