Sichuan Pepper-Salt Prawns

For the Sichuan pepper-salt:
1/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the shrimp:
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 lb large shrimp, in the shell, split down the back and deveined
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon seeded, minced serrano chile, or to taste

Lime wedges for garnish

For the Sichuan pepper-salt:
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the Sichuan and white peppercorns, shaking the pan, for about 3 minutes. Do not let them burn. They may smoke and pop like popcorn; this is okay. Remove the pan from the heat; set aside to cool slightly. In a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle, coarsely grind the peppercorns. Transfer to a bowl and combine with the salt. Set aside.

In a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Working quickly, in a bowl, toss the shrimp in the cornstarch and remove the excess cornstarch by shaking the coated shrimp in a sieve or strainer. Add the shrimp to the wok and cook, tossing a few times to cook through on both sides, for 2 to 3 minutes. With a large spatula or other implement, hold the shrimp in place, tip the wok and very carefully pour off and discard the excess oil. Add the garlic, chili pepper and pepper-salt mixture. Return the wok to the heat and toss the shrimp with the spice mixture until the spices release their fragrance and coat the shells, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

These are beautiful served very simply on a pretty plate, garnished with lime wedges. If you can find fresh pea vines in a local farmers' market, arrange them on your platter and set the seared shrimp on top.

Note: The pepper-salt can be made a week or more ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.

Yield: 4 servings

Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen by Tom Douglas (William Morrow)

Source of recipe: Tom Douglas