Recently, I came across a manager’s special on shrimp. They were huge -- not the kind you set out as finger food with a bowl of cocktail sauce.
No, these were destined for serving as a main dish, and they reminded me of a coconut shrimp appetizer I shared at the Crews Inn in Harrison Township, Mich., over the holidays.
Shrimp can be a lean source of protein depending how you prepare it.
That shrimp appetizer had a coconut coating that adhered nicely to the shrimp and wasn’t too thick or thin. Of course, the nice crispy coating came from deep-frying the shrimp.
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I wanted to re-create a coconut shrimp as a main dish, but didn’t want the deep-frying mess or the extra fat and calories that come along with it. I experimented with pan-frying a couple of the shrimp to set the coating before baking them. They didn’t absorb much oil, but I found that pan-frying diminished the coconut flavor.
There are a ton of recipe variations out there for coconut shrimp, and today’s recipe for an oven-baked version is a good substitute for a deep-fried coconut shrimp.
I know it might sound silly, but I brine shrimp first, in their shells, in a saltwater solution with sugar. This plumps them up. After brining, rinse and remove the shells, but leave the tails on.
Some shrimp will come pre-split along the back. If not, use a small pair of scissors to cut along the back through the shell and into the flesh so you can remove the vein. I keep a pair of cuticle scissors in a kitchen drawer for that reason.
I grappled with how to get the coating to stick and how to make it crispy and golden brown as if it were deep-fried. Years ago, a chef told me that because shrimp are wet and slippery, they needed to be dredged in flour before battering or coating them. You can use cornstarch in place of flour.
Then you need another wet ingredient to dip the shrimp in that the coating can adhere to. Egg whites whisked just until foamy provided the glue to hold the coating.
To ensure the coconut coating would brown, I cheated and toasted the mixture first in the toaster oven (you can use the oven, too). It worked like a charm. And before baking I gave the shrimp a few sprays of an olive oil spray that helped make them a little crispy.
You’re not going to get that super-crispy crust in the oven. But you can get a faux-fried version without the guilt.
OVEN-BAKED COCONUT SHRIMP
Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 25 minutes (plus optional brining time) / Total time: 1 hour
Brining the shrimp plumps them up.
12 jumbo (6 to 8 count per pound) shrimp
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large egg whites
½ cup all-purpose flour or cornstarch seasoned with salt and pepper
Nonstick cooking spray
SWEET & SPICY DIPPING SAUCE
½ cup Asian-style mild sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice or white vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
If desired, in a large bowl, mix 6 cups water with 1/4 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar, swishing the mixture around to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the shrimp and soak about 4 hours in the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, combine the coconut, panko, Old Bay Seasoning, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and toast the mixture, stirring twice, until the coconut is slightly brown, the color of honey, about 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully because the coconut can easily burn. Remove from oven and set aside. You can toast the coconut/panko mixture several hours in advance.
When ready to make the shrimp, remove from the brine if necessary ; discard the brine and rinse the shrimp well under cold water.
Peel the shrimp, leaving the tail end intact. Devein the shrimp by cutting a small slit down the back side and removing the dark vein. Pat the shrimp dry.
Line a baking sheet with parchment or spray with nonstick spray.
Have ready 3 pie plates or shallow dishes. Place the egg whites in one plate and whisk them until foamy. Place the flour or cornstarch in another and season with salt and pepper or favorite seasoning. Place the toasted coconut/panko mixture in the third dish.
Holding the shrimp by the tail, dredge it in the flour mixture and shake off the excess. Dip it in the egg white and then dredge in the coconut/panko mixture, coating and patting the crumb mixture so it sticks. Place the shrimp on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining shrimp. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 20 minutes to set the coating.
In a small bowl, combine all the dipping sauce ingredients and set aside.
At baking time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the tray of the shrimp from the freezer. Give each shrimp a little spritz of nonstick spray.
Place in the oven and bake about 12-15 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through and the coating is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve on a bed of mixed greens with the dipping sauce.