Stir fried shrimp with ketchup sauce is perfect when you’re limited on time but doesn’t limit great flavour. Pair these juicy shrimps slathered in savoury ketchup on top of steamed rice and dinner is ready in 10 minutes. Ketchup shrimp will be your busy mom’s secret weapon because your kids will love it too!
This recipe has got to be my most requested recipe.
Me: “What do you want for dinner tonight?” (Against better judgment, I actually ask my kids this question)
Zooey: “Ketchup shrimp!! I WANT THAT SAUCE!” (Note: My daughter never eats her fries with ketchup – go figure)
Every time I put a plate of ketchup shrimp in front of them, they dig in with their fingers licking that sauce, cleaning off the shrimp and spooning more sauce on their rice. It’s an almost primal sight.
- Ketchup – A Magical Culinary Condiment
- Stir Fried Shrimp with Ketchup Sauce Base Ingredients
- Expert Tips for Cooking Shrimp
- How to Quick Defrost Shrimp
- How to Tell if Shrimp is Cooked
- How to Make Stir Fried Shrimp with Ketchup Sauce (Step by Step Instructions)
- Serving Tips
- Storing and Reheating Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Ketchup – A Magical Culinary Condiment
Like mayonnaise, ketchup is more versatile than you think. Not just for your fries and hotdogs, ketchup’s sweet and tangy flavour takes care of the seasoning for dishes especially when you’re short on time. You might be surprised that ketchup is actually the secret ingredient for a lot of dishes. My mom even used to replace pasta sauce with it! (I don’t recommend it though)
Shrimp with ketchup sauce (a.k.a ketchup shrimp) is no exception and was my favourite dish growing up in a Chinese immigrant family. Ketchup actually originated from China which is probably why this is considered a Cantonese classic with many Chinese families – each with their own version.
Stir Fried Shrimp with Ketchup Sauce Base Ingredients
I like to keep my ketchup shrimp simple especially if I’m pulling together a quick dinner with little to no prep time (i.e. I forgot about dinner). There are other flavouring options I’ve included if you’re feeling fancy, but the base recipe is delicious on its own, especially with steamed rice (made with a rice cooker of course). You will amaze your family that you pulled dinner together in less than 20 minutes (and don’t worry your secret’s safe with me).
You can use shelled or unshelled white or tiger shrimp. Frozen or fresh. Both have turned out great in my experience. Just keep in mind that unshelled shrimp cooks faster than shelled shrimp and is more likely to overcook without the barrier of the shell. For a meal, I like to use at least 16-20 size or jumbo shrimp since I like the meaty juicy texture. You can use other sizes as well. Just keep in mind the bigger the size and shelled, the longer time it will take to cook but more grace period to not overcook.
There are other versions that don’t use onions, but since this is a meal, I like the sauteed sweet onions to slather over my rice. Just make sure they’re translucent and not raw before adding your shrimp (or else you’ll get raw onions or overcooked shrimp)
For super quick purposes, I use garlic powder. If you want to be more gourmet or have more time, mince garlic cloves instead. Both taste great!
The magic ingredient ketchup is added at the very end. The ketchup will cook down a bit, becoming sweeter and thickening the juices to create a lovely addictive sauce!
Adds extra depth to the ketchup sauce and a little more umami. Traditional Chinese recipes also call for worchestire sauce which I’ve added as an option for extra tang but it’s really a matter of preference.
Expert Tips for Cooking Shrimp
- Devein shrimp – Always make sure the shrimp backs are sliced with the vein (i.e. shrimp poop) removed. The crevice where the vein was closest to the head (i.e. the thickest part) is also a great spot to check for doneness.
- Don’t use different shrimp sizes – Size matters here. If you use shrimps of all sizes, that also means they will all cook at different times so your dish will have a combination of undercooked and overcooked shrimp. I recommend a size of 16-20 jumbo shrimp.
- Add all your shrimp to the pan at the same time – Since shrimp cooks so fast, in three to four minutes, you want to add them all at the same time for consistent cooking.
- Spread shrimp in one layer on the pan to cook evenly – Make sure you choose a pan large enough to spread the shrimps in one layer. Sear on one side and flip over. Slight overlap is ok since we are doing a combination of frying and steaming and so the sauce will finish cooking the shrimp at the end.
- Don’t leave your shrimp while it’s cooking – Like a toddler, keep an eye on your shrimp at all times and watch closely at what’s happening. Once they start to change color, you have about a minute or two left of cooking time. This is when you want to create your sauce.
- Cooking time will vary depending on shrimp size and shell/unshelled – When cooking shrimp, don’t rely on the clock but more on your eyes. See below on how to tell if shrimp is cooked. Just remember that shelled and bigger shrimp will take more time to cook but this is just a matter of minutes though. Also, the shell provides a barrier which gives you a bigger margin of error from juicy and tender to dried and chewy.
How to Quick Defrost Shrimp
Shrimp is probably the easiest thing you can defrost without a microwave when you’re crunched for time. When I need to pull together something quickly, shrimp is usually one of my go-tos and so I always have a pack of frozen shrimp in my freezer.
I prefer to defrost food in the fridge when I can because using a microwave always heats up food (especially protein) unevenly making partially cooked spots and weepy pools of water – yuck.
To quickly defrost shrimp, put your frozen shrimp in a bowl and soak it in room temperature water for 10-15 minutes depending on the size. Replace the water when the ice starts to come off (about the halfway time) to speed up the process even more.
These are extra jumbo shrimp (i.e.16-20) that I defrosted in 15 minutes at room temperature. Just make sure to dry the shrimp after as much as possible by blotting with paper towels before seasoning and cooking.
How to Tell if Shrimp is Cooked
According to Bon Appetit, searing shrimp takes only three to four minutes to cook and the margin of error is small. Once the shrimp starts to change color, that’s when you have to keep your eyes open. Closely watch the crevice, where the vein was removed and on the thickest part of the shrimp where the head was. Once that part changes from translucent to opaque, the shrimps are cooked. You might need to use a fork to see this if the shrimp are shelled.
For this stir fried shrimp with ketchup sauce, things are a little easier because the sauce finishes off cooking and helps keep the shrimp tender. Once the shrimps start to change color, make the sauce. Once the sauce is done, take the shrimp off the stove immediately. The residual heat will finish off the cooking process. I usually scrape off a bit of the sauce from the crevice and check that the shrimps are cooked prior to serving – they usually are!
How to Make Stir Fried Shrimp with Ketchup Sauce (Step by Step Instructions)
- Drain and blot dry thawed frozen shrimp with paper towels. Add salt, garlic powder, cornstarch and Shaoxing wine to shrimp. Mix well and set aside.
- Heat fry pan on medium/high heat. Add oil. Once oil is hot, add onions and fry till translucent.
- Add shrimp in one layer (as best you can – some overlap is ok). Please note that in the pics above, I added the garlic powder during cooking instead of before (cuz I forgot) and both methods work!
- Fry until shrimp starts to change color. Flip to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. There should still be undercooked portions of the shrimp. It’s better to have them less done when making the sauce.
- Add half the chicken broth, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce (if using). If you find the sauce is too thick, add a bit more broth.
- Lower heat to medium. Add ketchup and mix well. The sauce should coat the shrimp nicely.
- Cook for an additional 30 seconds or until gently bubbling. Remove from heat. Check for doneness by making sure the thickest part of the shrimp is opaque.
- Salt to taste. Garnish with green onion and chilli flakes (optional)
You can make stir fried shrimp with ketchup sauce with shelled or unshelled shrimp. Place the hot shrimp in a large serving plate along with steamed rice and Chinese vegetables like bok choy or yu choy for a simple and healthy meal. I strongly encourage you to drizzling the sauce over your rice!
Shelled vs Unshelled
The traditional Chinese dish is usually shelled but it will require more work from your guests to peel and eat. Be careful when handling hot shrimp with your hands too!
For shelled shrimp, I usually encourage my guests to spoon extra sauce into their rice bowls. Grab the shrimp by the tails and suck all the sauce off. Peel and dip the shrimp in extra sauce before eating, Delicious! The shrimp shells also add extra shrimp flavour to the sauce and saves you from possibly overcooking your shrimp.
For my kids, I usually opt to make unshelled shrimp since they don’t have the fine motor skills to remove the shells. I also strongly encourage sucking off the sauce from the shrimp. Manners are optional!
Either versions are delicious and is simply a matter of preference!
Storing and Reheating Tips
Store any uneaten portions in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat for 30 seconds to a minute in a microwavable plate stirring once.
Just be aware that microwaved or reheated seared shrimp is usually rubberier and stringier in texture. Definitely not as juicy and tender when cooked fresh. Since shrimp cooks quickly, I would recommend cooking the right amount of shrimp for a meal as opposed to in batches.
Imitation crab or surimi is a good substitute for shrimp. Also, fish cakes, fish dace shaped in patties or Korean fried cakes are also great options for texture. I would add some sugar or honey to balance out the absence of shrimp’s natural sweetness.
Use tamari or gluten free soy sauce in place of soy sauce. Also substitute Shaoxing wine with dry sherry.
Homemade ketchup over the bottled stuff would work just fine. I personally haven’t made my own homemade ketchup but let me know in the comments below if you have!
Need other quick dinners? Try these other recipes:
Shrimp Omelet – Super quick and ready in 20 minutes!
Wonton Soup with Vegetables – A comforting meal with minimal planning
Spam Fried Rice – Great in batches and re-heats super well!
Garlic Soy Chicken Wings – Great make-ahead option you throw all in a single pot.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Shrimp can be cooked in lower heat for a longer time or quickly seared. The best cooking method is to sear or saute the shrimp in high heat for maximum juiciness and tenderness. Add an accompanying sauce by either (1) fully cooking the shrimp separately and making a pan sauce after or (2) searing the shrimp halfway, adding flavourings and simmering for 1-2 minutes on low heat (like this recipe).
It’s important the shrimp you’re cooking is all the same size for even cooking. The key is not to overcook your shrimp. Overcooked shrimp is stringy and chewy. You can produce juicy tender shrimp in different ways either with high heat for a short amount of time or lower heat for a longer period of time. For the quickest results though, I would recommend searing the shrimp in a single layer in high heat for three to four minutes turning once.
Shrimp turning pink isn’t enough of an indicator that it’s fully cooked unfortunately. Cooked shrimp flesh also changes from translucent to opaque. Devein shrimp to create a crevice at the back of your shrimp. When cooking your shrimp, once the thickest part of the crevice near the head of the shrimp turns opaque, your shrimp is fully cooked. Remove your shrimp from heat immediately to avoid overcooking!
Stir Fried Shrimp with Ketchup Sauce (Chinese Style)
- 8-9 inch fry pan
Shrimp & Seasonings
- 1 lb frozen extra jumbo shrimp (with/without shell on) thawed and deveined with heads removed (approx. 16-20 shrimp) (Note 1)
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp garlic powder (or minced garlic)
- 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
Rest of the Dish
- 1 small white onion sliced
- 1 tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil) for frying
- 1/2 cup unsalted chicken broth
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- 3 tbsp ketchup
- chopped green onion for garnish (optional)
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
- Drain and blot dry thawed frozen shrimp with paper towels.
- Add salt, garlic powder, cornstarch and Shaoxing wine to shrimp. Mix well and set aside. (Note 2)
- Heat fry pan on medium/high heat. Add oil.
- Once oil is hot, add onions and fry till translucent.
- Add shrimp in one layer (as best you can). Fry until shrimp starts to change color. Flip to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. (Note 3)
- Add half the chicken broth, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce (if using). Add a bit more broth if you find the sauce is too thick. (Note 4)
- Lower heat to medium. Add ketchup and mix well. The sauce should coat the shrimp.
- Cook for an additional 30 seconds or until gently bubbling. Remove from heat. Check for doneness. (Note 5)
- Salt to taste. Garnish with green onion and chili flakes (optional). Serve immediately.
- If you’re in a rush and didn’t thaw shrimp in time, thaw frozen shrimp quickly by running under room temperature tap water in a bowl. Soak for 10-15 mins. The shrimp will soften and any ice will break off. To speed up the process, pour and replace the water 2 or even 3 times in between.
- You can also add the garlic powder during cooking (in case you forget). As you can see in the in progress pictures, I added it during cooking. Doesn’t make a big difference in the dish!
- Don’t wait till the shrimp changes color completely to avoid overcooking. The shrimp should still have uncooked portions when you start on the sauce. It’s ok if the shrimps overlap each other a little but try to lay them out in one layer for even cooking.
- You might not need all the broth. I add half the broth and see if the sauce created is too thick. I add the broth a bit at a time to thin out if needed.
- Check for doneness. Scrape a bit of the ketchup sauce off the crevice where the vein is removed closest and on the thickest part of the shrimp where the head was. If that part is opaque (not translucent), the shrimps are cooked.