Deconstructing Take Out: Make Honey Walnut Shrimp at Home

Honey. Walnut. Shrimp. These three words strung together invoke such delight in me, I should probably be embarrassed.

But seriously … Crispy shrimp coated with a sweet, creamy mayonnaise dressing and studded with candied walnuts, what’s there not to love about this dish?

This dish isn’t your usual Chinese fare the likes of fried rice or chow mein. In fact, with ingredients such as mayonnaise, honey, and candied walnuts, this dish is as far from the Far East as one could imagine. Rumor has it honey walnut shrimp was invented in Hong Kong and was transplanted to the U.S. in the early 1990’s when chefs started immigrating stateside in anticipation of the 1997 handover of the British colony to China.

Whatever its provenance, honey walnut shrimp has come to be a fixture on every Chinese restaurant menu in the U.S. and it’s one dish I’ll always order.

When we dine out with my siblings and their families, it’s a race of dexterity and speed with the chopsticks. Slowpokes get stuck with only bits of candied walnuts, which are yum but I’d much rather have choice morsels of shrimp. You can bet my chopsticks skills are up to par! My husband has to rely on me to snag one or two pieces for him. Most often though, we compromise by placing two orders so there’s enough shrimp to go around, and no hair-pulling or kicks under the table.

Lately, I’ve been on an “I can make that!” kick, attempting to recreate beloved restaurant favorites at home. Fried rice, check! Shrimp and Pineapple Red Curry, no sweat.  Pot stickers? Easy.

Judging from this recent post on Food52 , I’m not alone.

I’ve been told before how easy honey walnut shrimp is to make. However, I’ve never attempted it until I was flipping through Bee’s (of Rasa Malaysia fame) new cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes—Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao.” (Tuttle Publishing, September 2011).

True to the title of her book, honey walnut shrimp is super easy! As are other familiar favorites such as pot stickers, Kung Pao chicken and Mongolian beef. A comprehensive ingredient guide, informative snippets on making shrimp “bouncy” (who knew?) and chili oil, plus, deep-frying and stir-frying tips and tricks round off this must-have book. (Ahem … do I hear Christmas present?)

Here’s to Bee’s new book and easy take out dishes done at home!


Honey Walnut Shrimp (核桃虾)

Adapted from Easy Chinese Recipes—Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao (Tuttle Publishing, September 2011) by Bee Yinn Low

Time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time
Makes: 4 servings

8 ounces shelled and deveined medium raw shrimp (I used 41-50 count. Go here for a guide to shrimp sizes)
1 tablespoon egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
Oil for frying

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon condensed milk
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Glazed walnuts:
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and marinate with the egg white and salt for about 30 minutes.

To make the walnut glaze, rinse the walnut halves with cold water and drain.

In a small pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat and add in the sugar. Keep stirring until the syrup thickens. Lower the heat to medium and add the walnut halves. Keep stirring until the mixture turns golden brown or caramel in color, about 4 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully as you don’t want to burn the walnuts. Transfer the walnut halves onto parchment or wax paper to dry.

To make the dressing, mix the mayonnaise, condensed milk, honey and lemon juice in a bowl that is big enough to accommodate the shrimp. Set aside.

Dust the marinated shrimp evenly with the cornstarch. Shake off any excess.

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a wok or stockpot to 350 degrees F. Drop the shrimp one by one into the oil and deep-fry in batches until the shrimp turns light  golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Combine the shrimp with the dressing and toss well.

Transfer the shrimp to a serving plate and garnish with the candied walnuts and serve immediately.


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 What are your favorite restaurant/take out dishes you like to make at home?

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Photo by Lara Ferroni excerpted from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.

Here’s a snippet …

When I was growing up in Singapore, my mother would sometimes bring home a whole or half duck—succulent, slick with soy sauce, and very tasty—from the nearby hawker center to supplement our dinner. My siblings and I would dig in heartily, devouring every part of the bird. And we, a family of dark meat lovers, always came away with satisfied grins on our faces, as unlike with a whole chicken, no one had to contend with white meat. Even though mum is a fabulous cook, I remember wishing that she would be too busy to cook more often…

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