Ebi Chili, Ebi Chirri, Shrimp in Chili Sauce

What’s better than chilli in winter? Japanese-style Szechuan Shrimp in Chili sauce!
Though the winter here has not been especially chilly, a nice spicy dinner is most welcome!

This recipe can be made quickly, and with only a little planning, it’s a pantry meal. We often have shrimp in the freezer, and the main seasonings are ginger, garlic, and toban jan.

Oh, you say, “Toban jan (alternate spelling: toban jiang), is not a staple in my refrigerator.”

I say it should be there waiting for when you want just a bit of spice. It keeps a long time, and it’s easy to add to all sorts of recipes, not only in Japanese Chinese-style recipes. Add a teaspoon to barbeque sauce for chicken or pork on your grill, or add a drop to pizza sauce for a nice subtle kick, add it to the usually bland macaroni and cheese, or use it instead of Tabasco on your shrimp and grits. Which now brings us back to today’s recipe for ebi chirri.

And also note that I served this meal with purchased okra pickles—popular in the U.S. South as are the macaroni ‘n’ cheese (which is considered a vegetable side!) and the shrimp and grits. If you see them, snap them up: delicious!

Shrimp in Chili Sauce
Ebi Chili

Peeling and Cleaning the Shrimp

  • 12 shrimp (½ pound)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon potato starch
  • A sprinkle of Water

Remove tails and peel the shrimp. Make a slit in the back of each to remove the sand veins. Mix the shrimp with your hands in the above ingredients to clean them. Rinse well, drain and dry.

Seasoning the Shrimp

  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • A pinch of pepper
  • 1 teaspoon saké
  • 1 Tablespoon egg white
  • 1 Tablespoon potato starch
  • Note: I added a half pound of tofu cut into ¾-inch cubes

Place the shrimp in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add sake and egg white and mix well. Cover the shrimp with katakuriko starch. Let them rest for a few minutes.

The Chili Sauce

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1½ Tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1½ Tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1 Tablespoon Toban jan (Japanese chili bean sauce)
  • 2 Tablespoons ketchup
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 1 Tablespoon saké
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 green onions, sliced into rings
  • potato starch dissolved in Water
  • (1 Tablespoon potato starch mixed with 2 Tablespoons water)
  • 1 tsp Vinegar


Heat a large skillet or a wok and add 2 Tbsp of oil. When the oil is hot, stir-fry shrimp on high heat until it changes color. Remove the shrimp from the skillet and set aside. Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in the skillet and stir-fry ginger, garlic, and hot bean paste on low heat until the oil becomes red. Add chicken broth, saké, sugar, and ketchup. Bring to a simmer on high heat. Lower the heat, then put shrimp into the sauce. Simmer for about 30 seconds and add chopped negi. Pour in the mixture of water and katakuriko starch and stir quickly to thicken the sauce. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle on the vinegar.

And now for some history and drama about this dish in Japan:
Chen Kenmin is the Japanese chef credited with introducing the Japanese to Szechuan Chinese cuisine. Born in Yibin, Sichuan, China, Chen emigrated to Japan in 1952, and became a Japanese citizen in 1954. Chen had originally specialized in Chinese imperial cuisine. However in 1958, upon opening the Shisen Hanten (四川飯店?) Restaurant in Japan, Chen arranged his dishes to cater to the tastes of his Japanese clients.
Chen Kenichi is the son of Chen Kenmin. He is the only television Iron Chef to have held his position throughout the life of the the Japanese program.

25 thoughts on “Ebi Chili, Ebi Chirri, Shrimp in Chili Sauce

  1. I’ve never heard of picked okra before! (I’m in Georgia)

    I remember looking for Toban jan at the Asian market before & could not find any. There are a *lot* of bottles to search through though, so it probably was hiding somewhere!

  2. I absolutely love okra and was surprised to taste a Turkish pickled version, i finished the whole pot instantly hmm… Still have to make a perfect Surinamese okrasoup…it’s one of those dishes from my childhood I haven’t tried to make yet ’cause I don’t want to spoil the magical memory of it.. :D

    Hmm love your recipe up here too!

  3. Yes, there are lots of bottles to search through. The pictures in my post are of the one I prefer for Japanese flavors. There are so many Chinese and Korean versions. I bought one (inexpensive) Chinese one about 4 years ago and it was very oily, (cheap?) soybean oil, and just hot without much flavor. But I bought one recently because there is a Chinese store near my house and it was okay. Just read the ingredients.

  4. I’m a bit abashed to say that I have only tasted my first shrimp/prawn, (are they synonymous), recently. This marriage of the hot, sweet and savoury sounds perfect to me though. Toban jan! I’m on the look out for some as soon as I get to the market!
    Tess it looks all new here! Lovely! (-:

  5. I don’t think prawns and shrimp are exactly the same:
    But I don’t see prawns much around here…

    There are issues about wild-caught vs farmed, and more recently, here, there are even some farmed freshwater shrimp vs ocean grown. I’ve only tried the farmed freshwater shrimp, which are quite large, one time and found them bland and/or odd tasting. Maybe I should give them another chance: they would be a pretty garnish on top of a plate of other seafood…

    But what surprises me is that you’ve only tasted shrimp once! Are they not common in Australia? Or do you think they look too much like insects to be appetizing? LOL. Many years ago, our church sponsored a couple of families emigrating from Vietnam. One of the men had been a shrimper before coming to the U.S. and he’d sometimes go south to New Orleans for work, returning with a good quantity of shrimp. The women would prepare a feast, but he would not eat them; he said he saw enough of them live and frozen to want to eat them.

    There were several years where I couldn’t tolerate cleaning them. I’d break out in an itchy rash. Whether that was due to a true allergy, or to the thought of pulling off their many legs and exoskeletons, I don’t know. BTW, the shrimp we see here are always sold with their heads off. I don’t know if I would have been able to clean them at all in that case. These days, after cutting up so many things in the kitchen, I’m not phased by how violent preparing a mean can be, even with only vegetables.

  6. Thanks for the pointers on the prawn versus shrimp question. I inherited a phobia about eating crustaceans from my mother. Silly I know. Her avoidance stemmed from her orthodox upbringing although she grew determinedly into an atheist. Strangely the food rules stuck where the spiritual ones were let go.

    Prawns are abundant here – all sorts. It’s almost unAustralian of me not to order them if they appear anywhere on a menu. King prawns and Banana prawns always cause a lot of excitement. Did you every see the Australian tourism ad on television in the eighties or nineties with Paul Hogan, (Crocodile Dundee) where he wraps up saying, “throw another prawn on the barbie”.

    We have lots of lobster-like critters too that make it onto gourmet menus. If you every come out here try Balmain bugs – they are a very small sweet lobster caught in the Sydney waters. In recent years I discovered what I’ve missed not eating crab!! Now I love it! I haven’t got as far as cooking one myself yet. I’m willing to be educated though.

    • Your mother was Jewish?!! Did you tell me that already? Sorry I don’t remember. J’s mother’s family is Jewish. And she also became somewhat atheist/anti Orthodox. But here is a story: I remember a seder we hosted: she was one of our guests and kept telling J. about what he was not doing properly. Rules stick, spiritual or otherwise. Obviously, I didn’t serve shrimp that evening…

      As far as cooking lobster, crab, or even mussels or clams: I have no childhood background.

      but I do like to eat lobster in restarurants…

      • I remember enjoying reading about your baking honey cake for Mr Tess for one of the holidays. Lucky him. I fondly remember my grandmother’s – sticky top and honey crumbs inside. It lasts well – good for cut lunches.
        I can just imagine patient Josh riding out the “notes” at the seder!

        Sorry I’ve strayed a little – well a lot from your post’s topic. But good food is like that. Evocative.

      • Oh yes and I’ve even got the Indo-blood so I definitely grew up with that, as well as Surinamese food. And Balkan food ;) Actually all that I love now; good food.

        Hmm had the herring yesterday, used to hate it as a kid.

  7. One could use a touch of flour instead of potato starch for shrimp marinade/preparation. I’m trying to figure out what makes this dish Japanese style: the use of ketchup?

    I haven’t used ketchup at home in……over the last 25 yrs. I’m not kiddin’. I only have ketchup with hot dogs outside of home. :)

    For this dish, I would tend to use chili paste and some real tomato chopped up. There is also Chinese chili soy bean paste in a jar that I keep stocked. Only a big dab is needed. I don’t measure.

    • I think it is also the Japanese bean paste, which I show in the picture: it’s plenty hot and spicy with a slow burn, but not so hot as the Chinese bean paste, and a far cry from some of the Korean bean paste, which makes this a Japanese-style (Chinese) dish.

  8. Hi Jean,

    Yes, if your goal is to thicken the sauce for this dish, then using flour instead of potato starch (or even corn starch instead of the potato starch) would work. But the non-gluten starches seem to have some sort of enzyme in them that tenderizes proteins (in meats and even sometimes seafood) as well as thickening sauces. Look at velvet chicken which is so often on U.S. Chinese restaurant menus. Even on my blog is an example: the chicken and cashew stir-fry I love! ! But I don’t know the chemistry of how it works. Lots of Chinese American restaurants use the cornstarch/potato starch marinade to tenderize pork, beef, chicken, and seafood. Some folks say it makes the “meat” mushy.

    As for the use of ketchup, well that could be one reasons that this “Chinese” dish is made in Japan, modified for Japanese tastes. After WWII, spaghetti Naploitan became popular there.
    Ketchup was considerd a Western-style tomato sauce.

    I am aware of lots of jokes “Foodies” make about ketchup, but if you can consider it as a condiment similar to, well, chutney, then your perception of it could expand.

    Also note that in many old Western recipes, ketchup has been made from many fruits and vegetables.

    • I made a Frikadel pan this wknd, an Indonesian meatloaf, according to my grandmoms recipe and she adds ketchup to the marinade! Recently made some hamburgers so still had ketchup in the house, but generally also don’t have it in stock. Love ketchup though! Last time I made this dish I used my dads recipe who adapted his moms recipe, meaning amongst others no ketchup, and even though it’s just a big squeeze (say a tablespoon), it made a huge difference. This dish absolutely needs the ketchup! My grandmom can’t remember but I wonder if she Westernised the recipe when she moved to Europe and what used to be the alternative for ketchup…

      • Hey: I made meatloaf the other day, too! I added a squeeze of ketchup, some Worcestershire sauce, and half a smashed anchovy.

        I usually have anchovies on hand for pasta puttanesca but this time the jar was open because I’d made a very flavorful beef stew from Cooks Illustrated: They called for a tablespoon of tomato paste and a couple of anchovies to boost the “beefiness” of the broth. I thought, “Why not!”

        I had to Google Frikadel pan and found several recipes which include
        eetlepels Ketjap or 1 el ketjap manis or sweet soy sauce
        which brought this comment on my spaghetti Napolitan recipe:

        • Haha yes just read all comments you linked to here. My Indonesian grandmom uses and the ketchup AND the kecap manis for the frikadel pan. It makes sense, lemonjuice too so the ketchup balances out the sourness. The combination just makes a perfect crust, I kept the meatloaf wet with the marinade the whole time whiole baking.

    • I’ll have to make it again soon çause I forgot to take the “after” picture. I do think someone else made a pic, ’cause we had a dinnerparty with a full table.

    • Yes, thank you. I quite like the addition of green peas in your recipe: a bit more color and sweetness. and also using the egg yolk to enrich the sauce.

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