Ebi Chili (エビチリ) is a Chinese-style Japanese dish created by Chen Kenmin in the 1950's. Chen, originally from the Sichuan province in China emigrated to Japan, opening Shisen Hanten (Sichuan Restaurant) in 1958. He later went on to introduce Chinese dishes to households all over Japan through TV appearances on NHK.
While there were many Chinese restaurants in Japan before Shisen Hanten, Chen abandoned traditional recipes in favor of new interpretations suited to Japanese tastes. Some might call his actions traitorous, but he's widely regarded as the father of Japanese style Sichuan cuisine, popularizing such favorites as Mapo Tofu and Ebi Chili.
While Ebi Chili is usually made using doubanjiang (tobanjan), I prefer using a combination of sriracha and Thai sweet chili sauce. The heat comes from the sriracha, the sweetness comes from the Thai chili sauce and both sauces contain garlic which adds complexity to the dish without complicating the preparation.
Soaking the shrimp in an alkali solution gives the shrimp a firm, almost crunchy texture. It's then lightly coated in potato starch and blanched in hot oil to quickly cook it before being tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. Because it's a Japanese dish, it's pretty mild, so if you want to make it spicier, just add more sriracha.
- Add the shrimp to the bowl along with the salt and baking soda. Cover with ice water so that all the shrimp are submerged. Let this rest for at least 30 minutes. This gives the shrimp a nice firm texture.
- Dry the shrimp off with paper towels, then lay them out in a single layer. Put the potato starch in a fine mesh sieve such as a tea strainer and sprinkle a thin coating of starch on the shrimp, flip the shrimp over and repeat.
- Prepare a paper towel lined rack, then add about 1" of oil to pot and heat over medium high heat. When the oil reaches 350 degrees F, fry the shrimp a handful at a time. You don't want to add too much shrimp at once or the temperature of the oil will fall too much. Remove the shrimp as soon as they've turned reddish in color and have gone from translucent to opaque. This should not take more than a minute. Transfer the fried shrimp to the paper towel lined rack to drain and continue frying.
- To make the sauce, add a bit of oil to a frying pan and saute the scallions and ginger until very fragrant. Add the water, ketchup, Thai chili sauce, and sriracha. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
- Add the fried shrimp and toss to coat with the sauce. The Ebi Chili is done when the sauce has thickened up and coats each shrimp.