If you’re looking for a quick, easy, and SPICY replacement for your favorite takeout, look to our Kung Pao Shrimp. We stir-fry bell peppers, dried chiles, peanuts, and shrimp with a sweet and fiery chili-infused brown sauce that will leave your taste buds singing. Less than 30 minutes from start to finish.
Kung Pao Shrimp
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to Chinese food, I always want a big KICK. A little in-your-face spice. Something that leaves my tastes buds tingling after I addictively shovel every last spicy bite into my stomach. Kung Pao Shrimp is just that. It’s our newest in a lineup of easy Asian takeout favorites made at home, and it’s up there near the top of the list.
Spice in our Kung Pao shrimp comes in two forms, itty bitty Chile de arbol dried peppers and crushed red pepper flakes for a double duty of spice that will leave your eyes watering and nose twitching. Of course, where there’s spice, there needs to be a little bit of sweetness, so we balance out all that fire with a little bit of sweet brown sugar.
Flavors are also balanced and mellowed with a little bit of tangy balsamic vinegar, and of course, we can’t have an Asian dish without a little bit of salt from my favorite Asian condiment – tamari.
The plump shrimp are joined with what I deem a classic combination in al Kung Pao recipes – plenty of sweet bell peppers and beyond a generous amount of crunchy peanuts.
This quick, easy, flavor-packed Kung Pao Shrimp is just what the doctored ordered on a Monday. Let’s get started!
Ingredients in Kung Pao Shrimp
Veggies. I find traditional kung pao shrimp usually comes with an array of peppers and onions, so that’s what I stuck with. Other great options would be mushrooms, zucchini, or baby corn.
Garlic + ginger. Ginger and garlic is usually always found in most Asian dishes, and this one is no exception. To make things a little bit easier, I like to use ginger you can find already grated and stored in a tube.
Chiles. You want to use a dried red Chile here, and I usually go with a Chile de arbol which is pretty easy to find in most grocery stores.
Peanuts. I love the addition of peanuts in kung pao shrimp. It adds wonderful texture, so don’t skip it!
Shrimp. My favorite shrimp to use in dishes like these are plump Argentinean shrimp. They’re lobster-like in texture, sweet, and so delicious. If you can’t find them, any large shrimp will work as well.
Tamari. We’ve talked about this many times, but tamari is what I prefer over soy sauce. It’s typically gluten free, but it’s also much richer in flavor and a little less salty, which I love.
Dry sherry. In traditional kung pao shrimp, you would use Chinese cooking wine, but I don’t ever have that on hand, so I use dry sherry instead.
Balsamic vinegar. Also traditional in kung pao shrimp is Chinese black vinegar. Another ingredient I don’t keep on hand. After a bit of research, I found that balsamic vinegar is a close substitute, so that’s what I use.
Brown sugar. I like to add a little bit of sweetness to my kung pao shrimp to balance out the spiciness, and brown sugar does the trick!
Red pepper flakes. As the name ‘kung pao’ implies, this should be SPICY, so in addition to the chiles, we also add crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce.
Hoisin. This popular condiment is similar to a teriyaki sauce, but a little bit thicker and complex in flavor.
Chicken broth. We need a little bit of liquid to loosen the sauce up and chicken stock is what we use. It adds more flavor than water, but be sure to use low-sodium so you don’t add too much salt.
Cornstarch. Without cornstarch, we’d have a super loose sauce. When the cornstarch mixes with the liquid and then hits heat, it immediately thickens up.
Let’s make Kung Pao Shrimp!
Marinate the shrimp. Add the shrimp, a little bit of sherry, soy sauce, and brown sugar to a bowl. Toss and set aside.
Stir fry the veggies. First off, I LOVE to use a wok when making Asian dishes. I use something similar to this. It’s perfect for stir-frying because it retains heat really well and cooks everything evenly. To start, I heat up the wok over a high heat. Once it’s hot I add in a little bit oil and then swirl the pan to make sure it’s completely coated.
Add the peppers and stir-fry for a few minutes until slightly softened and starting to blister. Add in the peanuts, chiles, garlic, and ginger. Continue to stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Remove everything from the wok and set aside.
Make the sauce. While the veggies cook, whisk tamari, sherry, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, hoisin, balsamic vinegar, chicken stock, and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Stir fry the shrimp. Add a little bit more oil to the wok. Swirl to coat. Pat the shrimp dry and then add the shrimp to the wok. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until all sides are bright pink. Add the veggies, chiles, and nuts back to the pan. Toss again.
Add the sauce. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and veggies. Let the mixture come to a simmer. Simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes and toss a few times. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over steamed rice or noodles.
What is the difference between Szechuan and Kung Pao?
The difference is in the type of chile you use, plus Szechuan is a style of cooking. In our Szechuan recipes (like these Ants Climbing a Tree and Hunan Chicken) we use a Chili bean paste very specific to Szechuan cooking, called Doubanjiang. It’s fermented, so it has a really nice tangy flavor. In Kung Pao chicken it’s more of a in-your-face spice.
Another distinguishing difference is the use of peanuts both for taste and texture.
Can I make this ahead of time?
Shrimp doesn’t bode well leftover, so instead of making the kung pao shrimp ahead of time from start to finish, try prepping everything in advance instead. Chop the veggies. Defrost and devein the shrimp. Make the sauce. Store everything in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. It will come together in about 15 minutes this way.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- When you add the oil to the wok, but sure to coat the pan evenly with the oil before adding any veggies or protein.
- If you don’t have a wok, you can also use a large non-stick skillet.
- Swap out the shrimp for chicken, pork, or beef.
- Kung pao shrimp really benefits from the addition of peanuts, but if you want to use something you have on hand, cashews or hazelnuts could work as well.
- Instead of peppers, use baby corn, mushrooms, or zucchini.
- Make sure to pat the shrimp dry before adding them to the wok, so they stir fry instead of steam.
- If you can’t find Chile de arbol peppers, a Thai Chile or simply crushed red pepper flakes will work as well.
- Instead of sherry, you can use white wine, chicken stock, or Chinese cooking wine.
- Instead of balsamic vinegar, you can use Chinese black vinegar, rice vinegar, or white wine vinegar.
What to serve with Kung Pao Shrimp
- Any of our fried rice recipes would be a great compliment to Kung Pao Shrimp. Your choices are: Quinoa Fried Rice, Shrimp Fried Rice, Simple Fried Rice with Egg, or if you’re feeling veggies, this Broccoli Fried Rice.
- Instead of rice, think about serving it with our easy 5-Ingredient Peanut Noodles.
- I don’t know about you, but I can’t have Chinese takeout without dumplings. Our easy Asian dumplings are SO good, and make a TON,
- 1 1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 tsp dry sherry
- 1 tbsp brown sugar, divided
- 2 1/2 tbsp tamari
- 1 tbsp + 2 tsp canola oil
- 1 large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 6 chile de arbol dried peppers
- 1/3 cup peanuts, plus more for garnish
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
- 2 tsp hoisin sauce
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, plus more if you like spice!
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- Marinate the shrimp. Add the shrimp to a medium bowl along with 2 teaspoons tamari, dry sherry, and brown sugar. Stir to combine. Marinate while you cook the veggies.
- Heat a wok or large skillet to a high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil. Swirl to cook the pan. Add the peppers. Stir-fry, moving the veggies with a spatula frequently, for 2-3 minutes until the peppers start to soften and blister slightly. Add ginger, garlic, chiles, and peanuts. Stir fry another 2-3 minutes until garlic is fragrant and softened. Remove the veggies from the pan and set aside.
- While the veggies cook, whisk balsamic vinegar, remaining tamrari, brown sugar, chicken brown, hosin, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch together in a small bowl.
- When the veggies are done cooking, add the remaining oil to the wok. Swirl to coat the pan. Drain the shrimp of the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper. Add the shrimp to the wok. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink on both sides. Add the veggies, chiles, and peanut back to the wok with the shrimp. Stir to combine. Pour in the sauce. Toss to coat. Bring the mixture up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the sauce starts to thicken. Toss again, coating the shrimp and veggies.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped peanuts.