Shrimp and Zucchini Stirfry with Crispy Basil

New friend, Deb Puchalla, who is Editor in Chief of Martha Stewart Living Magazine, is hosting a Zukes and Cukes party and this is what I’m bringing!

Instead of just stirring in basil leaves at the end like I normally do, this time I deep fried the basil leaves to create airy-light, brittle-crisp basil that elevates this dish to another level.

Describing Perfectly Cooked Shrimp

Previously, I asked you guys to describe the TEXTURE of perfectly cooked shrimp. In Cantonese, my Mom uses the phrase that’s pronounced “song chuy,” Japanese “puri-puri,” Singaporeans “QQ.”

There’s no English equivalent. Bummer.

The texture of perfectly cooked pasta is “al dente,” and we need to come up with a concise way to describe the texture/mouthfeel of perfectly cooked shrimp.

Here are my favorite entries:

Jules: “I always describe the best prawns – esp in eg a CKT [sorry, Char Kway Teow] – as “bursty”. As in, they just burst in your mouth with luscious crunchy sweetness of juices.”

Amanda: “I always thing of shrimp as “bursty” with a crisp exterior – a texture similar to grapefruit, but with a crisp edge.”

Ed: “I was thinking that perfectly cooked shrimp are “bubble-crunchy”, like if one were to bite into a firm-enough orange. In Japanese, the word that best fits this texture is ‘puri-puri'”

Mia: “It sounds pretty unappetizing, but the word I thought of was “turgid,” which describes something that is swollen or distended. The shrimp should be cooked such that the outside feels like it is pulled taut over the juicy, delicious, inner flesh…but, um, succulent seems to be the more appealing descriptor.”

Spencer: “I believe the Chinese saying Jaden is referring to roughly translates to “Playfully Dances in the mouth” or something to that effect. There is no equivalent in English which made this rather challenging.I was going to suggest succulent as well, but Betty beat me to the punch so my alternate suggestion is “voluptuously supple”, but from a layman’s perspective, most would relate better with “crunchy and juicy texture.”

Maple: “Perfectly cooked shrimp have a bouncy bite.”

JustNancy: “It would be: “tsuay” (all-one-syllable) with a downward accent and it means all those adjectives all in one – crispy, bouncy, firm…”

Macsarcule: “I’m goin’ for buoyantly crisp, or tenderly springy.”

Keropokman: “for the word, i dunno if it’s a word, it’s a letter that I would use. “Q”. or sometimes use it in double “QQ”. hehe… we use that at home.”

And the winner of the $25 Amazon gift card is Maple’s “Perfectly cooked shrimp have a bouncy bite” and I’ll add the word “bursty” to that:

Perfectly cooked shrimp should have a bursty, bouncy bite.

What do you guys think? Any more ideas to describe the texture of perfectly cooked shrimp?


How to prepare shrimp for that bursty, bouncy bite

My Mom has always taught me to brine the shrimp to get that perfect texture.

Shrimp prep Shrimp prep
Brine the peeled shrimp in 1 tsp kosher salt, 3 cups water and 1 cup ice Drain, pat very dry on paper towels
Shrimp prep Shrimp prep
Marinate shrimp in pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil Get your wok or pan super-hot. You want the shrimp to instantly sizzle upon contact. Keep shrimp in one layer, let fry untouched 1 minute to get nice sear and carmelization. Don’t touch it! Leave it alone.
Shrimp prep To read other stir-fry secrets, see my post on Chinese Stirfry Shrimp, Peas and Eggs.
Flip and let the other side fry for an additional 1 minute. Remove shrimp, keeping as much oil in wok as possible and continue with stirfry. You’ll add the shrimp back in later.


How to deep fry basil

Start with about 1 loosely packed cup of basil leaves. After washing your basil, run them through your salad spinner to fling some of the surface water off. Then blot them on layers of paper towels to further dry the leaves. This is an important step, as water droplets + hot oil will make the oil splatter.

In a wok, deep fryer, or whatever cooking vessel you use (the smaller diameter of pot you use, the less oil you’ll need but then you can only do a few leaves at a time) heat about 2 inches of cooking oil (peanut/canola/veg) to 375F.

Have a splatter screen, tongs and a rack for draining ready. Fair warning – the oil will splatter, so please be careful! Using tongs, carefully add a few basil leaves to the oil. They should crisp up in about 10 seconds. Sccop ’em up and let drain.

The leftover oil is now beautifully infused with basil! Strain any basil bits out, let cool and store. You can use this oil for cooking.

Shrimp and Zucchini Stirfry with Crispy Basil

Shrimp and Zucchini Stirfry with Crispy Basil

For the shrimp:
1/2 pound peeled, deveined shrimp (tail on or off, up to you)
1 cup ice
3 cups cold water
1 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons cooking oil
fresh chili pepper, sliced
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
2 large zucchini, sliced
handful of deep fried basil leaves (see above)

For the light sauce: (combine in bowl)
1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Fill a medium bowl with 1teaspoon of salt, ice and water. Add the peeled shrimp and let soak for 15 minutes. Drain and pat very dry on paper towels. Empty the bowl, wipe the bowl dry and return the shrimp, the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt, sesame oil and cornstarch. Stir to coat the shrimp.

Heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the cooking oil, swirling to coat the wok. Add the shrimp and immediately give each shrimp its own space on the wok, so that they aren’t touching. Let fry, untouched for 1 minute. Flip shrimp and let fry for an additional minute, or just cooked through. Remove from wok, leaving as much oil in wok as possible.

You should still have 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in the wok. If not, add more cooking oil. Return the heat to medium-high and let the oil heat up. Add in the chili pepper and garlic and fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add in the zucchini slices and stirfry for 1 minute, tossing every 15 seconds, until zucchini is just barely soft in the middle but still firm on the outer edge.

Pour in the soy/sugar/oil mixture. Toss to coat zucchini. Now add in the cooked shrimp. Toss vigorously until all ingredients and flavors are dancing and jivin’ together.

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Comments 39

  1. Wandering Chopsticks

    My grandma taught me to brine my shrimp too. She also taught me to use a toothpick to devein it if I wanted to leave it whole, instead of splitting it with a knife and all that.

  2. sharon

    Hmm, no one’s ever taught me to brine shrimp until Jaden 🙂 Great post full of many things I love in life – basil, shrimp & zucchini.

  3. Paula

    Love the bursty bouncy definition! I want some bursty bouncy shrimp! I’ve never brined shrimp before, but since I love what brining brings to chix and pork, you can bet I’ll be brining my shrimp. I love that light sauce, too. I happen to have all the ingredients for this in my fridge right now. And it’s lunchtime … 🙂

  4. barbara

    I’ve never brined shrimp or any meat for that matter. How does it work to make the shrimp better. I endeavour to not overcook shrimp to get the right texture.

  5. SteamyKitchen

    Lydia – yes it does…which is why I only add a pinch for the marinade…and add the soy to toss w/ zucchini BEFORE I add in the shrimp. But the ice water really does make for better texture, so even if you use half the salt with the ice water it still works well.

  6. Paula

    Just a follow up message to let you know that I provided a link to your great recipe on my blog post dated 08/13/08.

  7. joey

    Great tips on bringing the shrimp and frying the basil! The stir fry looks delicious…crisp and fresh!

    Perfectly cooked shrimp pops in my mouth 🙂

  8. finsbigfan

    Fried basil sounds great!! We have ALOT of basil in the garden and are looking for new and interesting things to do with it. We are kind of pestoed out for now and are freezing small batches of it.

  9. Cler

    Love the recipe and not a fan of basil but with your amazing picture I’m begining to see basil in a different way!

  10. katie

    Brining sounds wonderful… I might try that with frozen shrimp (thawed, of course) I can’t get fresh, raw shrimp. I love the zucchini, and fried basil with it!
    Hope your auspicious birthday was wonderful!

  11. Cakebrain

    Mmm. I love deep-fried basil! My favourite dish is a Chiu-Chow specialty that incorporates the deep-fried basil in a savoury, spicy, chicken dish. Forgot what it’s called, but we always manage to order it when we go to a Chiu Chow restaurant. I think your dish is a wonderful way to highlight the different textures of the succulently crunchy prawns and the crispy basil leaves!

  12. keropokman

    Oooo. delicious prawns and the deep fried basil still look green!

    It is interesting how people make sure their prawns are bursty and bouncy (or QQ haha).

    Here’s what some people told me on my blog before. Some say:
    – corn starch solution. soak them for a while and even not so fresh prawns taste crunchy. (but prawn sweetness might be lost)
    – sugar solution. someone people soak them for a while before cooking.
    – constantly rinsing in clear water.
    – alkali water or bicarbonate of soda ‘treatment’
    – egg white wash before cooking

    Now I know salt water does it too! There’s so many ways to do something right? So fun!

  13. lifeinrecipes

    “Bubble-crunchy” – sounds like a good description of me after a night of too many margaritas!

    Loving the glassine quality of the fried basil.

  14. jill

    yum yum! hailing from a shrimping island where you could still get shrimp from the boats that had never been frozen, my family prided themselves on the perfectly cooked shrimp. I just love all of the descriptions and agree that the shrimp should feel swollen and ready to burst in your mouth. BTW, I fry spinach leaves the same way as you fry the basil- love the texture. Can’t wait to try this one!

  15. Jeena

    Wonderful post! Great tips and pictures on how to cook perfect shrimp. The basil sounds amazing I bet the infused oil cooks lovely food. Great recipe my hubby would adore this.

  16. Susan

    Did anyone say it’s a mouthful of “explosion” that only the freshest shrimp can give you? How you got those basil leaves to look like that is just another awesome word in itself!

  17. Bethany

    Yummy Yummy Yummy! Yet Another Fabulous Dish! BTW I gave you a tree of happiness award. Please check out my website for more details. Your Fab!

  18. Mikky

    Oh my… those shrimps look soooo yummy… I should definitely try this recipe… thanks for sharing… btw, super belated happy birthday 🙂

  19. Nilmandra

    The crispy basil leaves is a brilliant idea. I got to try this dish some time since I absolutely adore anything with prawns. *Drool*

    Btw, I have an award for you over at my blog. Don’t know whether you’re into that sort of thing, but I just want to acknowledge a brilliant blog that I love reading. Cheers!

  20. Jason Sandeman

    I love the idea of this plate. Very nice textures, and a nice contrast in textures as well. The only thing I have to add is perhaps to salt the basil leaves AS SOON as they come out of the oil. I have deep fried a lot of basil in my time, and I find that a tiny bit of salt also brings out a subtle flavor from the basil. Otherwise, you run the risk of serving something that tastes like bland fried spinach.

    As usual the picture is gorgeous. I really need to learn about your settings, camera, etc. I would almost give up my chef knife to learn how to do that. 😉

  21. Thip

    This dish looks so fresh and beautiful! Thanks for the tip on cooked shrimp. I like to use deep-fried Thai basil on my fish cake–never though about adding some salt on it though. Thanks, Jason–I might try it next time. However, I don’t think basil has a bland taste like spinach. They have a different taste in my opinion. 🙂

  22. pixen

    OMG wonderful!!! Yummylicious!!! I just had my lunch and now I’m hungry again … 🙁

    Thank you so much for the tips! Is true that’s the way to make seafood juicy yet springy and crunchy specially for prawns. My mom always said’ ” Khew”. For me, it has to bounce when I accidently dropped the prawn on the floor. Just like fishballs, it has to be ‘khew’ LOL No bounce, No fishball !


  23. greasemonkey

    wow! another reason to thank god that i’m not allergic to crustaceans! 8)

    thanks for the great tips! how long should they stay in the brining solution?

    i usually just boil my shrimps/prawns in 7up (lucky to get them swimming fresh) and have them with plain rice, mandatory dipping sauce of kalamansi (small citrus), fish sauce and labuyo peppers. hehe.. i know, it’s similar to a deconstructed fra diavollo given a pinoy twist but, that’s how i had it growing up.

    i’d like to learn more about the different chinese regional cuisines, would you guys have any suggestions for reading material? thanks! most especially to you jaden!

  24. Teri Burroughs

    Made this for my mom tonight and she LOVED it. I didn’t want to bother with the fried basil so I sliced it up fresh and stirred it in at the end. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly. It was SUPER YUMMY!

  25. qq

    Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words
    in your post seem to be running off the screen in Chrome.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem fixed soon.


  26. evelyjn

    hello, thank u so much for the bouncy shrimp tip! but would like to know, how long to brine the shrimps and marinade? many thankss!

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