Honey Walnut Shrimp

published Feb 22, 2022
Honey Walnut Shrimp Recipe

Add this flavor-packed dish to your weeknight dinner rotation.

Serves4

Prep40 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook28 minutes to 32 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Shrimp with honey and walnuts on an oval plate with broccoli
Credit: Zoe Yang

Rarely does one dish hint at so much and yet remains so mysterious. Such is the case for honey walnut shrimp. Let’s examine some clues: The knife work, in which whole shrimp are half-butterflied, and the shrimp batter, which is cornstarch-based, are rooted firmly in Chinese cuisine. Walnuts and seafood, two luxury ingredients in Chinese cookery, paired together point to special-occasion dining. And broccoli — so quotidian here — remains exotic in China and would have been even more so 40 to 50 years ago. Then there’s the mayonnaise and condensed milk in the sauce, both French in origin and wildly popular in American cooking at the time but two absolutely surprising ingredients to use in Chinese cooking. 

So where does that leave us? Much of the internet (but not all!) seems to believe that honey walnut shrimp originated in Hong Kong in the ’70s or ’80s. I can find zero evidence of this, but I can certainly imagine some Hong Kong hotel chef getting inspired one day — perhaps while enjoying condensed milk toast and reading up on all the crazy things Americans were doing with mayonnaise — and deciding to introduce an auspicious new shrimp dish to his wedding banquet prix fixe (nuts symbolize fertility). 

A Classic from a Bygone Era

Also plausible: The Hong Kong chef had emigrated to San Francisco, and was looking for ways to adapt his cooking when he came up with the recipe, because the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that honey walnut shrimp is a Chinese-American classic. Whichever story is true, to me this dish remains one of the greatest examples of Asian chefs playing with Western ingredients and, in doing so, originating modern fusion cooking. 

I also think this makes honey walnut shrimp stand out in the pantheon of Chinese-American classics, which tend to tell stories about scrappiness and necessity and — especially these days — speed and value. No, honey walnut shrimp is anachronistic, harkening to that golden period of Chinese-American cooking that was about novelty, entertainment, and opulence. When I went to Hop Kee, the old-school Cantonese American restaurant in New York City Anthony Bourdain featured on Parts Unknown, to taste their honey walnut shrimp for research, I descended the old, steep, stairs to an empty dining room, six waiters drinking tea, and honey walnut shrimp that cost $32 a plate.

Honey Walnut Shrimp in 2022: Beyond Panda Express

This homemade version of honey walnut shrimp follows in the footsteps of those unnamed chefs by borrowing Western trends. It being 2022, the trends have changed: Mayonnaise is out, Greek yogurt is in. I’ve also swapped regular sweetened condensed milk for coconut condensed milk, in a bit of an homage to coconut shrimp, that other great fusion classic. Together, they bring enough richness, aroma, and tang that you don’t miss the mayonnaise.

Credit: Zoe Yang

For the Home Cook

Two other simple modifications bring this dish from the restaurant to the home kitchen. The walnuts are roasted rather than deep-fried and the batter is kept light, which helps the shrimp fry up quickly and preserve their sweet juiciness. The sauce and walnuts can be made ahead, but don’t toss the sauce with the fried shrimp until your guests are sitting down — this dish needs to be enjoyed immediately!

Honey Walnut Shrimp Recipe

Add this flavor-packed dish to your weeknight dinner rotation.

Prep time 40 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook time 28 minutes to 32 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the shrimp:

  • 1 (1/4-inch) piece

    ginger

  • 1 pound

    uncooked jumbo shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), thawed if frozen

  • 2 tablespoons

    Shaoxing wine

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    MSG

  • 1 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1 cup

    cornstarch

For the walnuts:

  • 1 cup

    walnut halves

  • 3 tablespoons

    honey

  • 1 tablespoon

    vegetable or canola oil

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup

    whole-milk plain Greek yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon

    plus 1 teaspoon sweetened condensed coconut milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    seasoned rice vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    honey

  • 2 cups

    vegetable or canola oil, for frying

  • 1 large head

    broccoli (optional)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

  2. Peel and mince 1/4-inch piece fresh ginger (about 3 tablespoons), and place in a medium bowl. Peel and devein 1 pound jumbo shrimp if needed. Slice all the way down the back of each shrimp halfway through to help the shrimp form their signature flowery curls during frying. This is best done by laying each shrimp on one side on a cutting board and running a sharp knife down the back, being careful not to completely sever the halves. Add the shrimp to the ginger.

  3. Add 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon MSG, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Toss to evenly coat the shrimp. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour to marinate. Meanwhile, make the walnuts and sauce.

  4. Place 1 cup walnut halves in a small bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil, and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, spread into an even layer, and bake until the walnuts are browned and crisp, 5 to 8 minutes.

  5. Heat 3 tablespoons honey in a small nonstick frying pan over low heat until runny, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the walnuts and cook over low heat, stirring constantly so that the walnuts are coated evenly, until the honey is completely cooked off (do not let the honey burn), 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the walnuts onto parchment paper-lined plate, making sure they aren’t touching. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

  6. Place 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coconut condensed milk, 1/2 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon honey in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Taste for balance and adjust as needed (the sauce should taste savory, sweet, tangy, and rich; the texture should be thick and glossy).

  7. Blanch the broccoli, if using. Bring a pot of liberally salted water to a boil. Break 1 large broccoli head into small florets and reserve the stalk for another use. Add the florets to the boiling water and cook until vibrant green and crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until cooled. Arrange around the edges of a serving platter.

  8. When the shrimp are ready, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place 1 cup cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Dredge the shrimp in the cornstarch until evenly coated, and shake and tap each shrimp gently to remove any clumps.

  9. Heat 2 cups vegetable or canola oil in a medium or large saucepan (the oil should go at least 1 inch up the sides) over medium-high heat until 350°F. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, add the shrimp to the hot oil and fry, flipping halfway through, until the tails are salmon pink, the flesh is opaque milky white everywhere, and the cornstarch coating has taken on a very pale golden color like tempura, about 50 seconds total. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate or wire rack.

  10. Let the shrimp cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of sauce and toss to evenly coat. Transfer onto the center of the serving platter and garnish with the honeyed walnuts.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead. The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The candied walnuts can be made up to 2 days ahead stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Storage: This dish is best enjoyed immediately, but leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day.