Here's why you should try this dish: It's better than take-out, worth the dirty dishes and less expensive. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

A couple of times a month, we give in to powerful shrimp cravings. Our favorite indulgence: Salt-and-pepper shrimp from a local Chinese takeout restaurant. Large pink shrimp, fried just so, tossed with lots of salt, pepper and green chili. Irresistible as a nibble or as a main-course feast piled on rice. We could go for it right now.

As with any dish that captures our hearts, we knew we had to learn to make this at home. But a few rules applied to the finished dish before we would declare success: Better than takeout. Worth the dirty dishes. Less expensive.

So, the experimentation began. Research in Asian cookbooks revealed whole shrimp in the shell going into a deep fryer for this popular Cantonese dish.

Since deep-frying remains our least favorite cooking method, we decided to try shallow-frying small amounts at a time in a wok with a minimum of oil. Removing the shell made for less messy eating. To prevent oil from splattering, we patted the shrimp absolutely dry.

A sparse coating of cornstarch helped them crisp. The result? Super-plump, super-tender, drop-dead gorgeous shrimp.

For the seasonings, we opted for ordinary fresh black pepper (some recipes use Sichaun pepper), fine salt and a little sugar. Plenty of shallots and fresh jalapeno add crunch and a pleasant burn.

We're so enamored of the shrimp from this technique we created a sweet version with fresh pineapple, perfect for those who have grown out of the sweet and gloppy Asian main dishes we enjoyed as kids.

The recipe and the red chili pineapple variation double easily — just avoid the temptation to cook too many shrimp at once.

Serve this spicy shrimp as an appetizer with plenty of napkins and cold beverages. For a main course, pile it onto coconut rice. Then toss the take-out menus!

Buying tips

Some shrimp may come from places that are overfished or raised in ways that they are harmful to the environment.

When possible, buy shrimp farmed in the United States because we enforce strict environmental laws for the farmers that other countries do not.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium tells us that some U.S. shrimp farmers have even further reduced their impact on the environment by raising shrimp in fully recirculating systems or inland ponds, away from sensitive coastal habitats.

The easiest way to purchase shrimp responsibly is to shop at stores that provide origin information. Avoid shrimp that is not labeled adequately.

All shrimp are sold by size — how many shrimp per pound — even if they have a name such as colossal or jumbo. For a terrific treat in the recipe below, use the impressive 13 to 15 per pound shrimp. When using smaller shrimp, such as jumbos (16 to 20 per pound), or extra large (22 to 24 per pound), decrease the cooking time to prevent overcooking.

Salt-and-pepper shrimp with green chili

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Servings: 4