Sweet and Spicy Gluten-free Coconut Shrimp

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I love the idea of coconut shrimp. When I order it in a restaurant, visions of exotic locales fill my head. Colorful birds and luxurious fragrant flowers smiling in the sun, chaise lounges and bright aqua seas and umbrella drinks. Then they bring the order and usually what fills the plate is a greasy battered shrimp with some coconut mixed in, but never the beautiful coconut flavor that I was dreaming about. I snap back to consciousness, still in L.A. When I stopped eating wheat, I thought coconut shrimp was gone from my plate forever since most gluten-free flours crumble and go weak in the knees when it comes to crispiness.

Never one to give up, I did some research. There was one substance that I was sure was going to work, and that was tapioca starch. Sure enough, after reading about the properties of every possible gluten-free coating known, I found that I was right. I set up a coating station by spreading out paper towel on my kitchen table. After dipping the shrimp in egg, I rolled them in a mixture of tapioca starch and gluten-free panko bread crumbs. Then I turned the coated shrimp over in shredded coconut and when it wouldn’t stick well enough, I pressed it into the shrimp until it was generously covered.

Since Corazon en un Platillo is about doing things healthier, I used the bare minimum amount of coconut oil to saute the shrimps, and flipped them over once so that each side was a toasty golden brown. To contrast with the sweet coconut, I sprinkled the shrimps with a bit of cajun seasoning while they were in the skillet, just on one side.  I moved them from the frying pan to a waiting paper towel to drain off the excess oil. When I turned my back, my poodle mix jumped up and ate them. He said they had an exquisite flavor, and he envisioned pretty pink poodles wearing hibiscus flowers on one ear lounging seaside…

So, I drove back to Ralph’s seafood department to buy another pound of fish and started again. If you have a poodle mix that jumps as high as mine, double the ingredients in the recipe.

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. shrimp, 21-25 count per lb.

1 large egg

1/2 cup tapioca starch

3/4 cup gluten-free panko bread crumbs

1 cup sugar sweetened shredded coconut

cajun seasoning for sprinkling lightly on shrimp while cooking

1 – 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or more if needed)

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Directions:

1. Peel, wash and devein shrimp if they are not previously deveined. Set aside.

2. Tear off  a long strip of paper towel, about 6 pieces, and fold in half. Place the paper towel on a flat working surface. Pour the tapioca starch and panko bread crumbs on the left side of the towel. Spread the shredded coconut on the other side, leaving some room at the far right to stack the completed shrimp.

3. Break a large egg into a wide bowl. Dip the shrimp about five or six at a time in the egg and stir them around to make sure they are completely saturated in egg.

4. One at a time, remove the shrimp from the egg and roll in the tapioca starch/panko mixture.

5. Roll the coated shrimp in the coconut. If not enough coconut sticks, firmly press the shredded pieces into the shrimp. It may be necessary to lightly dip the coated shrimp in egg again, but I only had to do that once or twice.

6. Melt coconut oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.

7. Saute 8 -10 shrimps at a time, turning them over when they become golden brown on the side facing down. Do not crowd the pan, and watch them closely to avoid overcooking. They may need +/- 1 minute on each side.

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8. Drain on paper towel to remove excess oil.

9. Enjoy with a green vegetable and your favorite dipping sauce. I used a natural Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.

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Note: Coconut and coconut oil is one of the foods that was vilified by scientists and the press because coconut is a saturated fat. Some of you who read the recipes may still be skeptical about using coconut products in your cooking. Recently, scientists have found that the lauric acid found in coconut oil is harmless, as coconut oil is cholesterol free. It is a saturated fat, but not all saturated fats are created equal. Compare a coconut to a side of beef and I’m sure you’ll get the picture. When I use any oil in a recipe, I try to keep it to as small an amount as possible because over and over again, longevity has been proven to be on the side of those who eat lower fat diets. Sorry Atkins and Paleo fanatics.

While most people who are up-to-date on the most modern information on nutrition believe that coconut oil has healthy benefits which include promoting weight loss around the middle of the body, you must realize that the vegetable, corn and canola oil lobbies aren’t happy that coconut oil can’t be kept stocked on the shelves of grocery stores because it flies off  into people’s carts too quickly. The politics of food are one reason the jury hasn’t come in wholeheartedly to admit coconut oil’s benefits. What I do know for sure is that coconut oil can be heated to much higher temperatures than olive oil without burning. It adds a great flavor to foods, and most foods won’t soak it up in the same way they soak up other oils, meaning you can use less coconut oil to get the same results. Since many cultures can list hundreds of therapeutic uses for coconut and coconut products, I feel quite comfortable welcoming it back into my kitchen.

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