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What Is Sweet and Sour Shrimp?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sweet and sour shrimp is a main course dish that can refer to different recipes as well as cooking methods. For instance, in one common version of the dish, the shrimp is threaded onto skewers with vegetable and/or fruit pieces and brushed with a sweet and sour sauce while being grilled. In the other most popular version of sweet and sour shrimp, the seafood is stir fried along with vegetables and served over noodles or rice.

Jumbo sized shrimp is often used for the grilled kabobs, while medium or large shellfish is typically better suited to the stir frying method. Vegetables such as onions, bell peppers and mushrooms are often used in both versions of sweet and sour shrimp. Pineapple chunks are a common fruit ingredient in sweet and sour stir fries or kabobs made with shrimp. Seasonings, flavorings and spices common to both dishes include ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vegetable or chicken stock and tomato paste.

Recipes for shrimp-based sweet and sour kabobs or stir fries vary in their use of flavorings that add sweetness and tartness. Honey and brown sugar are commonly used sweeteners for these dishes, as are mirin, a Japanese sweet rice wine, and a sweeter type of sherry. The tartness in a shrimp stir fry or kabob meal could be provided from either lemon or lime juice or a type of vinegar. A wide range of vinegars such as red wine, apple cider or balsamic may be used when making a sweet and sour shrimp dish.

Some cooks also like to add ingredients that add both sweetness and tartness. Orange juice and red rice vinegar are two examples. Many cooks like to first marinade the shrimp in the sweet and sour ingredients before stir frying or grilling it. More of the same mixture can then be prepared, but thickened, such as by using a cornstarch and water paste, to make either a stir fry sauce or a grilled shrimp dipping sauce.

For both stir fried and kabob style sweet and sour shrimp, the shellfish must be shelled, deveined and washed before using it in the recipes. While garlic powder and ground ginger could be used as seasonings, fresh minced versions of both usually offer an increased amount of fresh-tasting flavor. Chinese spices are popular in sweet and sour stir fried shrimp dishes. A Chinese five spice blend of anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and peppercorns is most often used in stir fries, including dishes made with shrimp.

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