Chinese Kung Pao Shrimp (Paleo, Whole30, Low Carb)
Chinese Kung Pao Shrimp Recipe (or kung po shrimp) with juicy succulent Prawns and crisp peppers, tossed in a savory, tangy, and little spicy kung pao sauce. This keto take on Shrimp kung pao is seriously addictive. With the tingling heat from the Sichuan peppers and toasted nuts, it’s a dish that packs with BIG flavors yet really quick and simple to make.
Kung Pao Shrimp (or Kung Pao Prawns)
Kung pao shrimp is one of my family’s favorites. My Sichuan grandmother (my father’s mother) makes it often with loads of Chinese dry chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. Whenever we eat out, Kung pao shrimp or Kung pao chicken is often a must-have.
My family likes to go all out whenever we enjoy a family-style banquet meal with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We’d start with some light appetizers like garlic smashed cucumber salad, scallion pancakes, egg rolls, and hot sour soup as a starter, then move onto orange chicken, Mongolian beef or cumin beef, and Chinese hot oil ginger scallion fish, and pair them with a big plate of egg fried rice or lo mein.
The good thing is that since I love these classic Chinese dishes so much I made them gluten-free and low carb so you, too, can experience a typical Chinese family banquet style celebratory meal that’s full of fresh deliciousness!
What does kung pao mean?
Kung pao comes from a court official, Ding Baozhen, in the Qing dynasty. Kung Pao is his official title by serving as the crown prince’s private tutor. He likes chicken stir-fry with peppers so people named Kung Pao Chicken to honor his legacy. Today’s recipe is made with jumbo shrimp or prawns.
What is Kung Pao Shrimp
Kung pao shrimp features fresh, bouncy, and succulent jumbo prawns that are quickly stir-fried in a hot wok, tossed with dry chilis, Sichuan peppercorns, and a savory-vinegary-little spicy kung pao sauce, and toasted peanuts. I modified the recipe for gluten-free, paleo, whole30, and low carb users. The dish tastes less salty and sweet but you can still enjoy the delicious flavor and tingly sensation from this famous Chinese dish.
What goes in Kung Pao Shrimp (Paleo/Whole30/Keto):
- Shrimp – Large shrimp (or prawns)
- Vegetables – Crisp veggies like bell peppers, carrots, or celery are all great choices.
- Sauce – Coconut aminos, rice vinegar, arrowroot/tapioca starch
- Toasted nuts – cashew or pine nuts (to replace peanuts)
Sichuan peppercorns add a tingling and numbing sensation to the mouthfeel. They taste peppery and lemony. I used them in whole (1 tsp) in the recipe. Some people use them grind in powder form or in combination (whole + grind).
Sichuan peppercorns make Kung pao shrimp taste extra special and authentic. If, however, you are making this dish in a hurry without the peppercorns or if you prefer to make it more kid-friendly, try using one whole lemon zest.
Chinese Dried Chilis
They aren’t meant to be eaten! The whole point of using the dry chilis is to add a little bit of heat from the exterior of the peppers but without overpowering. There are two ways to use them –
- Use them whole. It adds a touch of heat and color to the dish.
- Use them cut open with seeds removed. Cut them open with a kitchen scissors and shake out the seeds before adding them to the stir-fry. I use this method for today’s shrimp kung pao recipe.
I’ve seen people using dried chile de arbol peppers in the States. You cut them open and shake out the seeds. Personally I haven’t tried this pepper yet but people told me they found success using this Mexican chili. Alternatively, you can use a few pinches of red chile flakes (like the ones you sprinkle over pizza). To make kung pao shrimp non-spicy, use red bell peppers. Dice them to small cubes.
What does kung pao sauce taste like?
Kung pao sauce tastes salty, little sweet, and sour, and with a tingle of heat from Sichuan peppercorns and oil. The Sichuan peppercorns are used in various ways during stir-fry that make the dish taste really special. Kung Pao is not a saucy or wet dish. A small and reasonable amount of sauce is okay but the ingredients shouldn’t be drenched in thick or gloopy sauce. The texture should be crisp and fiery and the actual cook time should be fairly short and fast so preparation is the key.
Tips for making the best Kung Pao Shrimp At home!
- Preparation is the key. The dish comes together fairly quickly so prepare the sauce and chop the ingredients beforehand.
- Don’t feel intimidated by lesser-known ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns or Chinese dry chilies. Nowadays they are quite easy to order online. I also provided workaround and alternative suggestions for a non-spicy version in my notes and blog post above.
- Use peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp/prawns to save time.
- Shrimp cooks fairly quickly. Get the wok hot first before you start stir-frying is the key.
- You can lightly roast the nuts in a dry skillet during the prep to bring out more nutty flavor if you like!
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- Mandarin Orange Chicken Salad
- Tatsoi Asian Greens Salad Recipe
- Sweet Ginger Pork Stir-Fry
- Thai Fried Rice With Chicken
- Crispy sesame egg tofu
More Asian Shrimp Recipes
- Chinese shrimp and broccoli
- Shrimp and tomato stir-fry
- Vietnamese garlic shrimp
- Bang bang shrimp
- Thai shrimp fried cauliflower rice
- Shrimp and avocado salad
- Browse my Pescatarian Recipes
Friends! This Sichuan-inspired Kung Pao Shrimp Recipe is seriously addictive! It’s savory, little tangy, and with a hint of numbing tingling sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns and chili crisp oil. Don’t feel intimidated by some of the lesser-known ingredients. I include online shopping links below so you can order them easily. You can also find workaround suggestions or even non-spicy suggestions in the notes and blog post above. If you love Sichuan cuisine, this is it!
Kung Pao Shrimp Recipe (Keto, Paleo, Whole30)
For the shrimp:
- 0.75 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
For the aromatics:
For the kung pao shrimp sauce:
- 4 tbsp avocado oil
- 2-3 tbsp toasted cashew nuts or pine nuts
- In a large bowl, butterfly the shrimp by making a shallow slice from the back, using a small paring knife. Pat them dry and season with garlic powder and white pepper. Set it in the fridge while you prepare other ingredients.
- Prepare garlic, ginger, peppercorns, and dry chilis in one plate. You can use the dry chilis in whole or cut them open with a kitchen scissors and shake out the seeds. Prepare the scallions and bell peppers on a separate plate. Stir-well the kung pao sauce in a bowl.
- Preheat a wok or large stir-fry pan over medium heat until it feels hot when placing your palm near, about 2-3 inches away. Add 2 tbsp oil. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Distribute the shrimp in a single layer and don’t touch for 1 minute then use a spatula to flip and cook for an additional minute. Transfer them to a plate along with the juice in the skillet. Your skillet shouldn’t be watery.
- Use the same skillet/wok, over medium heat, add 2 tbsp oil. Saute then garlic/ginger/peppercorn/chilis with a pinch of salt for about 10 seconds.
- Turn heat up to medium-high, add the bell peppers and scallions. Season with another pinch of salt. Saute for 10 more seconds.
- Return the shrimp and nuts to the wok. Stir the sauce again before adding it to the stir-fry. Toss to combine, about 10-15 seconds.
- Serve hot over steamed rice or cauliflower rice.
I used them in whole (1 tsp) in the recipe. Some people use them grind (Sichuan peppercorn powder) or in combination (whole + grind). If using powder, start with 1/4 tsp and add more to taste. Workaround -
Sichuan peppercorns make Kung pao shrimp taste extra special and authentic. If, however, you are making this dish in a hurry without the peppercorns or if you prefer to make it more kid-friendly, try using one whole lemon zest. Chinese Dried Chilis
They aren’t meant to be eaten! The whole point of using the dry chilis is to add a little bit of heat from the exterior of the peppers but without overpowering. There are two ways to use them -
- Use them whole. It adds a touch of heat and color to the dish.
- Use them cut open with seeds removed. Cut them open with a kitchen scissors and shake out the seeds before adding them to the stir-fry. I use this method for today’s shrimp kung pao. See photos above in the post.
I’ve seen people using dried chile de arbol peppers in the States. You cut them open and shake out the seeds. Personally I haven’t tried this pepper yet but people told me they found success using this Mexican chili. Alternatively, you can use a few pinches of red chile flakes (like the ones you sprinkle over pizza). To make kung pao shrimp non-spicy, use red bell peppers. Dice them to small cubes. Sichuan Chili oil. I found a good store-bought version so to save time this is the chili oil jar I use. If you like spicy food, it’s a great jar of chili oil to have. It makes the dish taste extra authentic.