For this dish, I like to use fresh shrimp with the heads and shells on. The shrimp are fried first to crisp up the heads and shells, before being stir-fried briefly with the other ingredients.
The Chinese way of eating them is to bite off the head and suck out the intense juices, then squeeze the meat out of the shell using your teeth. Sometimes, the shells are so delicate that you can eat them - it's like crunching on prawn crackers, only better.
Thoroughly rinse the shrimp, then drain them in a colander. Lay the shrimp on the work surface, then cut off and discard the hard part of the head, slicing just behind the eye to remove the sharp spear.
Devein the shrimp: make a shallow cut through the shell, slicing down the back from the head to the tail to expose the vein. Use the tip of a toothpick to hook the vein and pull it out slowly. Lay the shrimp on a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess moisture while preparing the other ingredients.
Cut the onion in half, then slice into half-rings about 3mm (⅛in) thick. Halve the garlic cloves, then thinly slice them. Cut the Chinese celery and spring onions into 2.5cm (1in) lengths. Slice the bird’s-eye chillies into thin rings, shaking out and discarding the seeds as you go.
Put the soy sauce, rice wine and sugar into a small bowl and add 60ml (¼ cup) of warm water. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Pour oil into a wok to the depth of about 9cm (3½in) and place it over a medium flame. Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F).
Put some cornstarch into a shallow dish. While the oil is heating, lightly dust the shrimp with cornstarch to cover them completely, then shake off the excess. When the oil is ready, fry the shrimp in batches, cooking them until they are pink and curled (less than a minute), then drain them on paper towels.
Pour off almost all the oil from the wok (no need to wash it) and place it over a high flame. When the wok is very hot, add the onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the Chinese celery, spring onions and dried and fresh chillies and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Stir in the black pepper, then add the fried shrimp and mix well.
Stir the soy sauce, rice wine and sugar mixture and drizzle it into the wok. Stir-fry the ingredients so they are lightly and evenly coated with the seasonings, then turn off the flame.
Scoop the ingredients into a dish and serve immediately.