Irresistible crispy shrimp dish in Chinatown

August 13, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Every now and then, I try a dish that is so intriguing, I want to see how it's made. That's the case this week, after a group of my friends was eating in Chinatown, and one of them suggested the crispy shrimp dish at Lao Beijing. What at first sounded like something ho-hum turned out to be a delicious example of Chinese creativity.

The dishes at Lao Beijing in the Chinatown Square Mall are a far cry from what Tony Hu normally serves at his other restaurant a few yards away, Lao Szechuan. One of them is a lightly crisp, aromatic fried shrimp dish that is unlike anything you've ever seen.

"Most of the dishes, a lot of spices. This one is kind of sweet," said Hu.

Hu begins by cleaning and deveining plump shrimp. He then cracks a few egg whites into the bowl, mixing them up with the shrimp. Some cornstarch is mixed in, and then the shrimp is put into a refrigerator; this will help bind the cornstarch to the outside of the shrimp.

After a few hours, the shrimp is submerged in even more cornstarch - Hu calls it "super" cornstarch - and shakes off any excess.

"We put a lot of cornstarch, and we shake a lot to let the extra cornstarch go away because we want the skin to be protected 100 percent. Also the skin, and the cornstarch on the skin is very, very thin, which is in order to make the outside of the shrimp very crispy and also to protect the inside, very tender," Hu said.

It does, indeed, protect the shrimp, and when they're fried in vegetable oil, they get a nicely even exterior layer of crunch.

The sauce is where it gets interesting. Hu combines mayo with fresh lemon juice and superfine sugar. The lemony simple syrup is thoroughly combined with the rich mayo, creating a sauce that almost has the aroma of sweetened condensed milk.

Once the shrimp is pulled from the oil, it is tossed with the glaze and served immediately.

One plate may not be enough. The dish is warm, crunchy and sweet, with the slightest hint of citrus tang; not your typical Chinatown dish.

"So when you eat, you can still smell the fresh lemon flavors," said Hu.

The menu at Lao Beijing has a lot of surprises on it, including the presence of several fried dough items in place of rice, since rice is not as common in the northern reaches of China.

Lao Beijing Restaurant
2138 S. Archer Ave.

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