Moroccan Salt and Pepper Shrimp

For decades, I have enjoyed the highly addictive salt and pepper shrimp at Chicago’s Moon Palace. For the uninitiated, salt and pepper is a style of Chinese cooking where the food is crispily fried, tossed in a spice mixture, then combined with sauteed garlic, onion, ginger, and hot peppers. It’s a preparation I crave like some people do sweets. There’s something absolutely magical about the combination of sharp, pungent, and salty flavors with crunchy textures. And if you are into that, then Moon Palace is the place to be. Their menu boasts of at least ten different salt and pepper preparations to choose ranging from tofu, squid to my second all-time favorite, salt and pepper pork chops.

Speak of food and I’ll desire it, feed me and I’ll be full, eat at Moon Palace and you’ll want for more. — a modern Chinese proverb

THE CHINESE EPOCH

My father first turned me onto Moon Palace years ago when he was in the midst of his Chinese epoch. For two years, he completely submerged himself in all things Chinese and actually learned to read, write, and speak fluently in Mandarin. His methodology was simple. He completely absorbed himself into the culture he wanted to learn about. He watched Chinese movies, socialized mostly with Chinese friends, read Chinese newspapers and went out to as many Chinese places he could to practice speaking the language. The good part was when he went to the restaurants, he would call me to join him.

THE ARABIC EPOCH

Most people were caught completely off guard when my father replied to them in their native tongue. I remember one time during his previous Arabic epoch when we stopped in a gritty Palestinian grocery store on Chicago’s west side and my father picked up a newspaper written only in Arabic. The shop owner asked him if he could read the paper and my father commented on the headline in perfect Arabic. The owner was stunned. He quickly locked the door and invited us in back where he brewed a small pot of cardamom-infused coffee and offered a small, perfectly sweet baklava topped with hand-chopped pistachios.

INTRODUCTION TO SALT AND PEPPER

The Chinese restaurants were always fun to go to. Most restaurants offered two very different menus, one with General Tso chicken, sweet-n-sour pork, and shrimp toasts for the tourists, and the other menu filled with Chinese favorites and specialties. We both became obsessed with salt and pepper shrimp after a Chinese friend introduced it to us during a meal at Moon Palace. It now has become the yardstick I measure other Chinese restaurants by.

A PERFECT SALT AND PEPPER RECIPE

For years I have searched for the perfect recipe to emulate and I think I finally found the one. The final touch came after I read Jet Tila’s book ‘101 Asian dishes you need to cook before you die’. His recipe was very straightforward, except for the secret addition of chicken bouillon powder to the spice mixture. I now have added this crucial flavoring to my perfect recipe.

Please post pictures online and share your creation with the hashtag #PistouAndPastis. We LOVE to see what you do!

Enjoy

Moroccan Spiced Salt and Pepper Shrimp

A Moroccan version of the classic Chinese preparation known as salt and pepper style in which food is lightly fried then tossed in an aromatic spice mixture with hot peppers, ginger and onions.

Servings 4

Ingredients

Moroccan Spice Mixture

  • 1 tsp fleur de sel or flake salt
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon cube crushed into a powder
  • 1 tsp Piment d’Ville, or Espelette pepper
  • 2 tbsp chopped scallions
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp sugar

Cooking the Shrimp

  • 1 pound head-on shrimp washed
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying

Vegetables

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic mashed
  • 1 tbsp diced ginger root
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced red pepper
  • 1 hot pepper — optional diced
  • 1 tbsp diced preserved lemon
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro

Finishing the Dish

  • 1 cup harissa aioli optional

Instructions

Moroccan Spice Mixture

  1. Mix all the ingredients of the spice mixture together in a bowl and reserve.

Cooking the Shrimp

  1. Rinse your head on shrimp in cold water, pat dry, then put into a bowl of potato starch. Toss for a few minutes till the potato starch forms a breading.
  2. Heat your fry oil to at least 350 degrees in a large pot. Shake excess potato starch off shrimp and carefully deep fry for three minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy. Drain on a paper towel while you are preparing the rest of your the dish.

Vegetables

  1. Over medium heat, slowly cook the mashed garlic in vegetable oil until amber colored. If you cook too fast the garlic may become burnt and bitter. The idea is to get it crunchy and still sweet.
  2. Add the diced ginger, onion, and peppers and saute quickly. The idea is to soften them a bit but still maintain a bit of crunchiness. Toss in preserved lemon and cilantro.

Finishing the Dish

  1. Add both the spice mixture and the fried shrimp and toss really well over high heat.
  2. Scrape all the crunchy little bits out of the saute pan and serve immediately. I usually do not serve with a harissa aioli BUT some people love dipping sauces.

Recipe Notes

If you are a purist and cannot see fit to alter a Chinese recipe and make it how a Moroccan might approach the dish, simply omit the Piment d’Ville, cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves from the spice mixture and add 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper. Then, omit the preserved lemon.

Written by

My earliest attempt at cookery began with the filleting of my sister's goldfish at age 2 and cooking my pet rabbits by age 7. Life has been downhill ever since.

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