This week, I reached out for a bowl of new Wok-Fired Shrimp, the latest entry on the "Wok Smart" menu at the No. 1 Asian-American chain, Panda Express, with 2,300 restaurants 'cross country and 'round the world. "Wok Smart" items must pack at least 8 grams of protein and weigh less than 300 calories. Wok-Fired Shrimp fits the bill with plenty to spare.
Here's the Wok-Fired Shrimp breakdown: seared marinated shrimp, sugar snap peas, chopped red bell peppers, and yellow onions that are shaken, rattled, and rolled in a hot wok with a spicy sauce bolstered by chipotle, fresh jalapenos, and Chiu Chow chilis. Hey, check the thermostat, somebody turned up the heat here.
Total calories: 190 (for the 6-ounce "small" entrée). Fat grams: 5. Sodium: 1,140 mg. Carbs: 19 g. Dietary fiber: 1 g. Protein: 17 g. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $5.65. Your mileage may vary.
Panda Express is all about fresh ingredients, good-sized portions, and value. The Wok-Fired Shrimp delivers on all three fronts. The first pleasant surprise is the size of these shrimp. They're legit large, all right. The shrimp are peeled, tail-off, unbreaded, and seared tender and moist in a hot wok.
Usually shrimp put through this ordeal experience severe shrinkage by the time they reach your plate. I've been served shrimp in some places that look more like bait. You have to eat them with a spoon, even when they're breaded and butterflied for maximum illusion. Not these, though. Big ups for Panda Express on the big crustaceans.
Like more expensive Chinese restaurants and buffets, Panda Express chops its vegetable fresh and refrains from cooking the living daylights out of them. The snap peas a bright green and really do snap. I like food that talks back. The red bell pepper and onions are crispy and colorful. This is a really pretty dish.
The sharply spicy sauce will bring your senses to their senses. The three hot peppers don't hold back. So this one "small" entrée delivers on its sweet, spicy, and savory mission.
Well done, Panda Express. Fans who normally order their old go-to favorites, like Orange Chicken, Honey Walnut Shrimp or Teriyaki Chicken have a new contender to consider. But don't dawdle, Wok-Fired Chicken is here for the dreaded limited time only.
Ken Hoffman reviews a new fast food restaurant item every Wednesday. Have a suggestion or a drive-thru favorite? Let Ken know on Twitter.