Ebi Chili (エビチリ) is a sweet and spicy shrimp stir-fry that was crafted by the culinary genius of Chen Kenmin. Chen, a native of China’s Sichuan province, ventured to Japan and established Shisen Hanten (Sichuan Restaurant) in 1958. Although numerous Chinese eateries were already present in Japan, Chen dared to break from convention by concocting fresh interpretations tailored to Japanese palates, such as his Mabo Dofu and Tantanmen.
Drawing inspiration from traditional Sichuan Chili Shrimp, Chen’s Ebi Chili incorporates ketchup and a blend of fragrant aromatics. Adding ketchup may seem unconventional, but it’s and easy way to balance the chili paste’s heat with the subtle sweetness of tomatoes, creating a harmonious flavor profile that enhances the shrimp’s naturally sweet notes.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Brining the shrimp in baking soda and salt gives the shrimp a firm springy snap, like biting through the casing of a good sausage.
- Pan-frying the shrimp and removing it from the pan while you make the sauce ensures the shrimp stays juicy and plump.
- Finishing the chili garlic shrimp with a drizzle of vinegar balances out the sweet and spicy tastes with a hint of tang.
- Shrimp – I am okay with using smaller (cheaper) shrimp in many dishes, but this one benefits from using bigger shrimp. The larger the shrimp, the longer it takes for them to cook, which gives you more runway to fry them and then marry them with the sweet and spicy sauce without overcooking them, ensuring juicy shrimp. The other benefit of large shrimp is that there will be less to flip over. That being said, the recipe will work with any reasonably sized shrimp, so buy whatever you can afford. I used 21/25 size, which is considered “jumbo” shrimp in the US. By the way this recipe will work with other types of seafood such as scallops or fish, but you can skip the brining process and just season your chosen protein with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
- Baking Soda – In Chinese cuisine, the springy snap that shrimp can have is a valued texture. Although there are several ways to achieve this, the easiest way is to raise its pH. I use baking soda (along with just a little water) to do this. This also has the added benefit of deodorizing the shrimp.
- Potato Starch – A light potato starch coating helps the shrimp retain its juices while helping the sauce stick to its surface.
- Aromatics – The traditional aromatics used in Ebi Chili are scallion stems, garlic, and ginger. I like to grate my garlic and ginger, so they caramelize quickly and disperse evenly throughout the sauce, but I prefer to hand-chop the scallion stems, so they provide some texture. In Japan, we have a very thick scallion called a Tokyo Negi, but if you can’t find them near you, the stems of several green onions will work fine.
- Doubanjiang – Doubanjiang is a chili paste made by fermenting broad beans (a.k.a. fava beans) with chili peppers, soybeans, and salt. It’s not only spicy. The fermentation creates a ton of umami in the sauce. If you can’t find it, a 2:1 mixture of sriracha sauce and miso will make a suitable substitute. I don’t recommend increasing the amount of doubanjiang because it will increase the sodium level. If you want to make it spicier, just add red pepper flakes.
- Ketchup – For those unfamiliar with modern Asian cooking, ketchup might sound like an odd addition, but it has been widely used in both Japanese and Chinese cuisines over the past century. For this Chili Shrimp, this sweet and sour tomato condiment provides a balancing fruity sweetness to the sauce while giving it a fire engine red hue. If for some reason you don’t want to use to ketchup you can use a mixture of 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 2 tablespoons of honey or packed light brown sugar as a substitute.
- Sake – Sake contains amino acids which create the perception of umami in food. The alcohol content burns off as the sauce cooks, so you don’t need to worry about that, but if you can’t find it where you live, you can substitute chicken stock as an alternative in this recipe.
- Vinegar – To finish the sweet and spicy shrimp sauce, I like drizzling in some rice vinegar at the very end. This adds a nice sharp tang that balances the sweet ketchup and the savory shrimp.
- Garnish – The garnish is optional, but I like to top my sweet and spicy shrimp with chopped green onions. This creates a nice contrast between the sweet stir-fried scallion stems in the sauce and the pungent greens on top. Fresh cilantro is another great garnish for Ebi Chili.
How to Make Chili Shrimp
The first thing you want to do is brine the shrimp by adding them to a bowl with baking soda and salt. If your shrimp aren’t very wet, you’ll want to add a few tablespoons of water to ensure the baking soda dissolves. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge while you prepare and measure the remaining ingredients.
Once you’ve finished with the other prep, take the shrimp out of the fridge and wash them thoroughly in cold water until it runs clear. Be thorough here, or your shrimp will taste like baking soda. Then you want to drain them and spread the shrimp out in a single layer on top of multiple paper towels. Next, get more paper towels and press the shrimp, focusing on the tails to get them nice and dry. Next, transfer the shrimp to a bowl and dust them with a thin, even potato starch coating.
To make the Chili Shrimp, heat oil in a large frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add the shrimp in a single layer. As the shrimp turn orange around the edges, work quickly to flip them over. When the shrimp are mostly orange, transfer them to a bowl, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
Add garlic, ginger, and scallion stems to the remaining oil and stir-fry until the aromatics become fragrant about thirty seconds. Add the doubanjiang and continue stir-frying for another minute or so.
To finish the sweet chili garlic sauce, add the ketchup and sake to the pan along with the shrimp. Toss everything together until the shrimp is cooked and the sweet and spicy sauce is nice and thick. This should only take about thirty seconds. Finally, drizzle the rice vinegar over the sweet and spicy shrimp and stir it in. Serve your Ebi Chili garnished with chopped scallion greens.
Serve it With
This is spicy shrimp recipe is one of the rare dishes I prefer serving with Japanese Fried Rice (as opposed to plain white rice). That’s because the sauce is pretty sweet, which makes this dish pair better with savory carbohydrates. Garlic rice is another option, and if you’re feeling like noodles, my soupless Tantanmen is a solid option. In terms of veggies, I usually like to steam some broccoli or snow peas to go with this, and you can toss them in the dressing I used for my Smashed Cucumber Salad.
- 450 grams shrimp (21/25 size, peeled and deveined)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 10 grams garlic (grated)
- 10 grams ginger (grated)
- 60 grams scallion stems (minced)
- 2 tablespoons doubanjiang
- ⅓ cup ketchup
- ⅓ cup sake
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- scallions greens (chopped for garnish)
- Add the peeled and deveined shrimp to a bowl and sprinkle on the baking soda and salt. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of water and mix it together to ensure the baking soda is evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare and measure out the other ingredients.
- When you’re done with the other prep, wash the shrimp in cold water until the water is crystal clear.
- Drain the shrimp and pat them dry with several layers of paper towels.
- Transfer the shrimp to a bowl, dust them with the potato starch, and toss them to give each one a thin, even starch coating.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and the shrimp in a single layer.
- As the shrimp turn orange around the edges, flip them over quickly.
- Once the shrimp are mostly cooked through, remove them from the pan, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
- Add the grated garlic, ginger, and scallion stems and stir-fry until the garlic no longer smells raw.
- Add the doubanjiang and continue stir-frying until you have a thick paste.
- To make the sweet chili sauce, pour in the ketchup and sake, and return the shrimp to the pan. Stir-fry until the shrimp are fully cooked, and the sauce forms a thick glaze.
- Finish the Chili Shrimp by drizzling over the vinegar and tossing it before plating it. Garnish with chopped scallion greens.
What do you think?0