~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, this is one of my most requested appetizers of all. Once people eat it, they remember it, make note of it, then want more of it. As I've mentioned before, back in 1993, I had the pleasure of becoming good/pretty close friends with a Home Economist from Thailand. In the three years that Kanya lived in State College, Pennsylvania, she taught several series of cooking classes that attracted all of the foodies in our community, including me. All of her recipes were made-from-scratch and served family-style, just like they would be in a Thai home. Coconut shrimp was not a recipe she taught in any of her classes, but it was a dish she served privately to Joe and I at her home one evening where we instantly fell in love with it: golden-brown, crispy, coconut-coated shrimp on the outside, perfectly-cooked, moist, succulent, sweet shrimp on the inside. As my sad tale goes, Kanya and her husband Fu moved back to Thailand before Kanya had the opportunity to share the recipe... which she had promised to do, and gladly would have done, had there been enough time!
I did, however, get enough of "off the cuff","cook to cook" instructions from Kanya to give me a great starting point for a recipe. Firstly, because the shrimp are dredged in flour, dipped in a light, drizzly batter, coated in coconut, then deep-fried, the shrimp must be large enough in size to allow the coconut ample time to turn golden brown while being deep-fried, about 2 1/2-3 minutes. The larger the shrimp, the better, but not so large that in the time it takes the coconut to turn golden the shrimp remain uncooked in the center. What this means is: use only jumbo/21-25 count, shrimp in this recipe. Secondly, this is a recipe that is best left for last. What this means is: prepare these 1-2 hours in advance of serving, with 1 hour being better than 2.
A bit about the batter, which I am sure authentically is not similar to tempura. Tempura is a light batter that is made using ice-cold sparkling water, wheat flour and cornstarch. The batter is whisked very briefly and very quickly, in very small batches, with the bowl itself being placed in a larger bowl of ice. Having fun so far? Me neither. I love tempura, but in my lifetime I just had to figure out an easier to manage batter to deep-fry a somewhat large quantity of coconut shrimp in. It was not an easy task and most of my experiments turned out heavy and bready no matter how I adjusted the quantities of flour, baking soda and baking powder. Then, one afternoon, while very close to the end of my rope, I took a bottle of my favorite light beer (the perfect substitute for sparkling water) and mixed it with some boxed pancake mix (the perfect premixed substitute for flour, baking soda and baking powder), until it was of a very drizzly consistency. I added some soy sauce for flavor and the rest is coconut shrimp history!
2 pounds jumbo (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
2 cups pancake & waffle mix, for dredging
3 cups pancake & waffle mix, for batter
2 1/2 cups light beer, plus up to 1/2 cup additional beer (2, 12-ounce bottles)
1/4 cup seasoning soy sauce, preferably Golden Mountain brand
1 14-ounce bag sweetened, flaked coconut
corn or peanut oil for frying
Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce, for dipping or drizzling
Set the mixture aside for about 3-5 minutes, to allow the batter to thicken.
Add additional beer, until the batter is drizzly again. How easy was that!
Working in batches of 6-8, no more at any given time, dredge each shrimp in the pancake mix, without coating the tail. Shake the shrimp to allow any excess mix back into the bowl. Note: Keeping the tail uncoated will make for a prettier finished product and presentation.
Again, use the tail as a handle and do not coat it in the batter.
Again, holding the tail like it is a handle, drag each shrimp through the coconut until it is coated on all sides.
These six shrimp are ready for the deep-fryer already!
Add the first batch of shrimp and fry until the coconut is golden brown, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.
While the first batch is frying, dredge and coat a second batch. Repeat this process until all shrimp are coated and fried.
~ Step 6. Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to paper towel lined baking pan to drain and cool slightly. I do not like to use tongs for this task because they tend to rip and tear the delicate coconut coating. Decoratively arrange shrimp on a large serving dish and serve with Mae Ploy for dipping or drizzling!
Special Equipment List: large mixing bowl; medium mixing bowl; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; deep-fryer w/oil according to manufacturer's specifications; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; Asian spider or large slotted spoon
Cook's Note: If you are not a shrimp lover and would rather make coconut chicken, you'll need 16 large chicken fillets or tenders (about 6 per pound). Cut each fillet into four chunks or "nuggets" and follow the recipe as directed.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)