By cooking the shrimp in their shells, all the moisture is preserved and the shrimp meat remains nice and plump. For Hong Kong-born May Leong and her family, the fun part of eating this dish is licking the sauce off each shrimp before peeling. This way you taste the sweet juice of the shrimp mingled with the tangy sauce. When May was growing up, her Cantonese mother, Oi Yee Leong, cooked a variety of dishes and May couldn’t tell the Chinese dishes apart from the others. She thought corned beef and cabbage was a Chinese dish until she met her Irish husband! Only then did she realize her mom must have gotten the recipe from one of their former Irish neighbors. This dish is one of the few Chinese-influenced dishes May remembers learning from her mom before she passed away in 1984 at the tender age of forty-four.
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced into 8 wedges and separated
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
- 2 to 2½ pounds unpeeled medium (36/40 count) shrimp, deveined
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ cup rice vinegar
Preheat a large wok or skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the onion and tomatoes and stir and cook until the tomato skins start to slip off and the flesh softens, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook and stir until the tomatoes are slightly mushy and the juices are released, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the tomato mixture to a plate and set aside.
In the same wok, swirl in the remaining oil and heat over high until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Toss in the shrimp and sprinkle with the salt. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Don’t worry if not all the shrimp have turned pink yet.
Return the tomato mixture to the wok. Add the ketchup and sugar and stir everything swiftly around the wok. Splash in the vinegar and stir to mix. Simmer over medium heat until all the shrimp have turned pink and opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Shrimp cooks really fast so don’t step away from the stove. You don’t want to overcook the shrimp as they will be rubbery. Remove from the heat and serve immediately with freshly steamed rice and a vegetable side dish.