Hunan shrimp is a popular Chinese dish packed with an intense spicy flavour that will leave you wanting more.
While most Asian restaurants sell this, it's not difficult to recreate a healthier version at home and save some money.
Our Hunan shrimp recipe does not use many ingredients. You only need some fresh prawns, a few seasonings, and veggies!
Our homemade hunan shrimp recipe is slightly different from other recipes out there. But, we'll show you what we like to do to get the best taste. So, continue reading to discover how to make this foolproof flavourful masterpiece.
What is Hunan shrimp?
Hunan shrimp is a Chinese dish made with shrimp and stir-fried vegetables. The ingredients are tossed in a spicy mixture of chilli bean paste, garlic, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.
Chefs usually add blistered green beans and green onions to the spicy prawns.
The dish takes its name from the Hunan province in China, its place of origin. This cooking style falls under the Hunan-style cuisine (also known as Xiang cuisine).
Yet, regional chefs have different cooking styles. Therefore you might see variations with the same name. Even in the West, there are different versions of this dish, yet they are all called the same name.
Most people serve this stir-fry with rice or noodles. You can also make this dish with fresh or frozen prawns.
This recipe is versatile so you can serve these prawns alongside lunch and dinner, or you can enjoy it by itself. We recommend you try this meal along with rice or shrimp chow mein.
What does Hunan shrimp taste like?
This Chinese dish tastes spicy due to the rich sauce with chilli bean paste and garlic. However, since the dip is so overpowering, you only get a mild sweetness from the prawns.
The result is a delicious dish with gravy. We recommend that you mix it with rice or eat it accompanied by some noodles.
Hunan shrimp calories
The amount of calories in Hunan shrimp with vegetables is about 240 kcal.
If you want a full meal, you can reduce the Hunan shrimp calories by making a milder sauce or including more lower-calorie vegetables.
Hunan shrimp vs Szechuan
Hunan-style and Szechuan shrimp originate from different regions in China and are cooked differently. Hunan shrimp is cooked in a spicy red chilli sauce using a dry heat method, while Szechuan shrimp is made with a mellow green chilli sauce that is sweeter. We'll break down these key differences below.
So, you may wonder how you would choose between Hunan-style and Szechuan-style when you see these seafood dishes on the restaurant menu. Both are popular dishes with succulent seafood in a spicy sauce, but some key differences make each dish unique.
Chefs usually cook the Hunan variation with an intense, spicy red chilli sauce that burns your mouth on first taste. Furthermore, the Hunan cooking style is all about 'dry heat'. This cooking style means that the dish's chilli peppers are essential and as critical as the prawns. This dish originated from Hunan.
On the other hand, Szechuan shrimp is cooked with a mellow green chilli sauce that numbs your taste buds rather than burning them. The Szechuan recipe also has brown sugar or honey to level the spiciness, so it's sweeter than spicy. Also, this dish comes from the Szechuan region, which is well-known for its distinctly sweet yet numbingly spicy dishes.
Another difference between these two dishes is the vegetables. Hunan shrimp typically features bell peppers and onions, while Szechuan shrimp often includes celery and carrots. You can use whichever vegetables you prefer in either dish or keep it simple.
If you're looking for something less of a rush but a long, slow burn, the Szechuan version may be more up your alley. Either way, you will surely enjoy these delicious dishes!
Hunan shrimp vs kung pao
What's the difference between Hunan shrimp and Szechuan kung pao shrimp? The difference is solely in the ingredients used. If you're a fan of ordering hot and spicy shrimp Chinese takeout, you might have come across both of these dishes.
In the kung pao version, we stir-fry the prawns with peanuts, chilli peppers, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Another critical component is that Szechuan chefs add roasted unsalted peanuts for garnishing.
Modern versions of the kung pao shrimp style also use hoisin sauce to set the dish's salt base, so the gravy is very light. You will also usually see that the plate includes lots of green and red bell peppers. The result is almost like a spicy seafood salad.
On the other hand, we typically cook Hunan shrimp with large prawns in a spicy sauce made with Thai chilli peppers, hot pepper oil, and a mix of garlic and ginger.
Which dish is spicier? It depends on the chef!
The kung pao variation is usually more about flavour. The spiciness is not essential. Instead, chefs focus on making the juiciness of the ingredients come through. However, you can always add extra chilli peppers for a kick. Another popular takeout dish that is cooked similarly is kung pao chicken.
Ingredients in Hunan Shrimp
The basic Hunan shrimp ingredients you will need are shrimp, dried chilli pepper flakes, soy sauce, rice vinegar, Shaoxing wine, green onions, garlic cloves and ginger.
Below is a breakdown of the key ingredients and what you need to watch out for.
We recommend using Argentinian shrimp as they are large and taste like lobster. But if it's unavailable, any prawns, even frozen ones, work too.
However, if you use the Argentinian ones for your Hunan shrimp, you'll get a sweeter dish and more to chew! Also, if you can find deveined and deshelled prawns, that will save you a lot of work.
Chilli peppers or chilli paste
As for the chilli peppers, you can buy them depending on what is locally available. If you live in the West, we recommend visiting a general Asian store to check for dried chilli pepper flakes.
An equivalent of four to six chilli peppers is needed if you want a moderate spice.
For the chilli paste, try using Doubanjiang. You can find it on Amazon, if not your local Asian supermarket. However, any chilli paste will do.
This Chinese dish commonly uses a mix of vegetables. For example, must-haves include green onions, garlic cloves and ginger. Slice your green onions and garlic, and mince the ginger into small strands.
For the vegetable mix, you can try adding green beans to the mix if you like. You must chop these vegetables. The key is for them to add flavour, texture and nutrients to the Hunan shrimp.
Sesame oil is much preferred here for cooking oil, as it's healthier. It might not affect your dish much, but sesame oil adds a slightly nutty flavour layer to the entire dish.
The key sauces to create the dish's flavour are soy sauce, rice vinegar and Shaoxing wine.
If you dislike soy sauce, you can add more salt or use tamari. Tamari is a gluten-free version of soy sauce. It also tastes slightly thicker than soy sauce, so this is the better option for some people. But, of course, soy sauce works as well too!
When adding rice vinegar, you bring a mild sweetness to the dish that complements the saltiness of the soy sauce.
Shaoxing wine helps to get rid of the fishy smell from the prawns and brings depth to the overall flavour as it has a sweet, nutty and vinegary taste.
Lastly, thickeners such as cornstarch and chicken broth are also essential. They fulfil the purpose of thickening and adding more flavour to the gravy. While cornstarch is a must-have ingredient, chicken broth is optional.
Hunan Shrimp Recipe
- 1 lb peeled prawns
- 250 ml peanut oil
- 6 shallots (thinly sliced)
- 3 tsps minced fresh ginger
- chopped garlic cloves
- 3 tsps Shaoxing wine
To coat the prawn:
- 1 egg white
- 6 tsps peanut oil
- 3 tsps cornstarch
- 6 tsps Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- A pinch of white pepper
To make the sauce:
- 50 ml ketchup
- ½ teaspoon oyster sauce
- 2 tsps white rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper oil
- 2 tsps light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili paste (doubanjiang)
- Mix all of the hunan shrimp coating ingredients in a bowl. Coat the prawns, then leave them in the fridge. Next, mix all the sauce ingredients and set them aside.
- Stir fry the prawns with oil in a wok. Once it smokes, add the garlic, ginger and shallots. Lower to medium heat and wait for shallots to caramelise. Then add the prawns. Turn your stove to high heat. Cook until the prawns are pink on both sides. You can also check by sticking a chopstick into the prawn meat. If it goes through, you can lower the heat.
- Drizzle the Shaoxing wine over your ingredients in the wok. Add the sauce and stir-fry your hunan shrimp dish for about 2 minutes until the sauce bubbles.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
Variations To Try Next
There are many variations of this dish. Let's look at other versions so you can add your favourite ingredients too!
Jumbo shrimp Hunan style
The trick to making jumbo shrimp Hunan style is to add alkaline baking soda. This plumps up the seafood, so they look almost like lobsters. It also becomes easier to cook, and you don't have to worry about overcooking the prawns!
The baking soda mix with the seasonings also naturally causes the meat to fall apart from the shells. So, it's easier to eat the prawns without trying to peel them.
Hunan Shrimp with black bean sauce
Hunan Shrimp with black bean sauce is a truly delicious mix! The black bean sauce is the perfect accompaniment in this simple stir-fry as it adds an umami taste to the dish. The final result is savoury and salty.
Hunan shrimp and chicken
Hunan shrimp and chicken is a protein addition you need to try for your meals. Sliced chicken pieces are stir-fried in the same fiery sauce along with the saltiness of prawns.
You'll notice that meat neutralises the salty seafood taste, which is suitable for those who like to have a less flavourful dish.
Shrimp with peanuts
Relatively similar to Kung pao prawns, except that we cook the shrimp Hunan style and add roasted peanuts. Some chefs coat the prawn with peanuts before stir-frying.
As a result, you get a very spicy dish with a crunchy peanut texture. Kung pao chicken, another popular takeout dish, is also cooked almost the same way, except that the meat is different.
Hunan style beef and shrimp
Hunan style beef and shrimp depend on well-fried hot chilli peppers to spice the dish.
The chefs use dry smoked beef, which becomes very chewy when cooked in a wok full of peppers and fermented black beans. As a result, the sizzling meat with caramelised onions and the mild sweet-saltiness of prawns is a beautiful combination!
Now you are ready to serve your Hunan prawns recipe! Hunan shrimp is an effortless dish to recreate. It is low in calories and a great addition to any meal. If you cook it at home, you can control the level of spiciness you like.
So instead of grabbing the phone and calling takeout from a restaurant, why not try our recipe? The ingredients are readily available, and you can get anything else not in your supermarkets from Amazon. We hope you enjoy using our very own home-cooking recipe.
If you like Asian food or want to discover more recipes, bookmark our website and follow us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks. We have many more Asian delights coming up for you to try!
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