For every summer issue of The Baking Sheet, I try to put together a meal that sings of summer. Usually it's something with unusual or tropical flavors and spices. Typically, it's a meal that's best eaten outdoors on the deck or at a picnic table, with company.
This summer our regular feature, "When Company's Coming," sports the following menu:
Coconut Shrimp (baked, not fried!)
Fresh Pineapple Salsa
It's all pretty easy to do; much of it can be prepped in advance, and guess what? The whole shebang is gluten-free.
Let's start with the star of the show, Coconut Shrimp. I adore this stuff, but I've always felt terribly guilty eating it, because I know that shrimp on its own is a great food calorie-wise; but once it's coated with coconut and baptized in the fryer? Not so much.
I stumbled across a recipe for baked coconut shrimp at About.com, and realized perhaps there was another way. We have some articles in our pantry that seem tailor-made for this idea, like our coconut milk powder and unsweetened coconut.
The recipe is simplicity itself.
First, mix up the breading. It's basically a question of measuring and stirring together, but there's one small prep task first. I'm going to pulse the sweetened coconut in the food processor a bit, to make its size the same as the unsweetened coconut. Littler bits make for a nice crunch and nubby texture in the finished product.
1/4 cup (1 ounce) cornstarch
1 cup (3 ounces) flaked sweetened coconut
2 tablespoons coconut milk powder
1 cup (4 ounces) unsweetened coconut
in the center are 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Obviously, you can do this in advance. This is enough breading for a pound of large (16-20) shrimp; if you're feeding a crowd, or using a much smaller size of shrimp, you'll want to scale up or down accordingly.
In case you're wondering, the numbers in parentheses indicate the number of shrimp in one pound. Those labeled 16-20 are the largest commonly available size. Next smallest are 21-25 (meaning there are between 21 and 25 shrimp per pound), then 26-30, 31-35, etc. The smaller size you use, the more breading you'll need to cover all that surface area.
To prep the shrimp, peel all but the last section of shell...
...which will help act as the "handle."
Once the shrimp are ready, keep them in the fridge while you set up for breading.
This will be a two-step process, unlike the restaurant technique called "standard breading procedure." That involves three steps: dredging in flour, dipping in egg, then dredging in bread crumbs. Our two steps are going to save us time, mess, and calories.
Beat 3 egg whites, or pour out 1/2 cup of liquid egg whites from a container.
The secret of breading things is this oft-repeated mantra in restaurant kitchens: "One hand wet, one hand dry." That means you assign one paw the task of dealing with the juicy stuff, while the other moves the breading around.
Take a shrimp by the tail, dip it in the egg white, let the excess drip off.
Next coat it with the breading...
Once the shrimp are done, you can pop them in the fridge for a few hours, or freeze them until you want them (if you've used fresh shrimp to start with; if you've used thawed frozen shrimp, they should be cooked before refreezing).
To cook the shrimp, preheat the oven. If you happen to have a convection option on yours, this is a good place to use it; set it at 400° for a conventional oven or 375° for convection. Give them a light spritz with some vegetable oil, (if you're feeling really exotic, combine some peanut and sesame oil in a small spray bottle for more flavor), turn them over, and spritz again. The oil will help the shrimp to brown and make it good and crunchy.
Into the oven they go. They won't take long; about 12 to 15 minutes in a convection oven; 15 to 20 for conventional.
When they're done, you'll want something to serve them with, so let's take a look at the next item on the menu: the Caribbean Sweet Potato Cakes.
This is a food you'll find in Jamaica; I've taken a few liberties with it to keep it gluten-free.
Here's what's in 'em:
2 cups (17 ounces) mashed cooked sweet potato; about 2 small to medium potatoes
1 jalapeño pepper
2 cloves garlic (roasted if you like, which I do)
3 scallions, sliced thin
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) instant mashed potato flakes, plus more for dredging
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces) peanut oil for frying
When making things with sweet potatoes in them I almost always bake them in their skins, peel and mash, and go from there. I've never understood why you'd take something that can be quite watery and boil it, then try to get rid of the water again. But that's just me.
This is another place where my beloved Pastry Pro does yeoman service. Just make sure the bowl you're using has a flat bottom.
Once the sweet spuds are mashed, it's time for a little knife work. I used to teach knife skills at a major culinary school. One of the first things I did with my students was require them to pledge "not to cut an innocent vegetable in half for no reason."
Most foods come with built in handles, and jalapeños are a perfect example. Here's the secret to pain-free pepper dicing: cut the walls off the core of the pepper, holding onto the stem, and leaving the ribs and seeds (where the pain and heat reside) behind.
Dice the walls and add to the bowl with the other ingredients. The binder for these is a half cup of instant mashed potato flakes.
Another great place to put the dough whisk to work:
Now we can fry 'em up. Take some more mashed potato flakes, put them in a shallow pan, and scoop the dough into the pan. I used our tablespoon scoop for these.
Put more flakes on top of the blob of sweet potatoes, then press down lightly until the cakes are about 1/2" thick. Don't go any thinner, or the cakes won't hold together.
Put a large, sturdy skillet on the stove, and add peanut oil until it's about 1/4" deep. Place over medium heat (these need to fry at a medium-low temperature, or they'll burn before they're heated through). When you see the oil ripple, start putting the cakes into the pan.
Cook for about 3 minutes per side, flip, cook another 3 minutes, then transfer to absorbent paper to drain. You can hold these in a low oven (200°F) for up to an hour, if need be.
One of the vagaries of frying anything that's breaded is that the crumbs fall off, sit in the oil, and start to burn.
This pan shrapnel usually gets to a critical point, where you have to bite the bullet and pour it and any oil still in the pan into a heatproof container, then swab out the pan. I use tongs and a paper towel for this.
Once most of the offending flotsam is gone, you can put the hot pan back on the fire, add a little more oil, and carry on.
It's usually about 4 pancakes from the end of the recipe when this happens, but c'est la guerre.
Two more menu items, then we're ready for supper. Pineapple salsa is simple:
3 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/4 cup small diced red onion
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Some people just can't stand cilantro; it's optional, really. You could put a wee bit of grated fresh ginger in its place, or add some small diced hot peppers if you like a little more fire.
The only tricky part of this salsa is knowing how to cut up a pineapple. I've seen all kinds of instructions telling people to peel it, then spend, oh, half an hour trimming out all the eyes before being able to cut the thing up. Cringe is not quite the word for my reaction to this. Here's the fastest way to get to naked pineapple.
Lay the pineapple on its side, and trim off the top and bottom. Stand it up, then cut it in half, top to bottom, then cut each half in quarters.
Cut each quarter one more time, top to bottom, then run your knife just inside the edge of the core, as shown on the top right.
Now lay the slice down on your board, and run your knife between the flesh and the skin. Voilà. Naked pineapple spear, great for grilling as is, or ready to be sliced once more, then put flat for dicing.
From here on out it's just a question of putting everything in the bowl and stirring it up. It's best if you let it sit for at least an hour, so the flavors have a chance to get a conversation going.
Last but not least is Mango Sauce. This is another condiment that would be great on any kind of grilled fish or jerk chicken. It's also simplicity itself to make, if you're not afraid of fresh mango. Here's another fruit that often gets called to be peeled, when in fact it's much easier to process if you leave the skin on. Behold:
Stand the mango on end, and look at where the stem is. Mangoes are kind of flat oblongs; the pit is flat, and runs down the center. Line up the mango so the flatter sides are parallel with your knife, and slice off the sides. Put one side on your cutting board, and score it in 1/2" lines with your paring knife, without going through the skin. Next, pick it up and press the skin side, so the mango looks "inside out."
Now you can slice off the cubes quite nicely.
Once you have naked mango chunks, here's what goes into your food processor:
flesh of 2 ripe mangoes
2 tablespoons fish sauce, or 1 teaspoon soy sauce plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies
Give it all a buzz, put some in a bowl, and get ready for one of the most fun parts of this whole business: digging in!
The Baking Sheet is where you'll find ideas for meals like this that fit the season perfectly. We also strive to find things that are a little unusual, have good stories with them, and that WORK.
The upcoming Summer issue has a lot of other great food in it, too. Here's a smattering (by no means complete) of what else you'll find if you subscribe: Greek Tomato Fritters with Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise, Orange Cream Pie, Blackberry Cake, Pissaladière, and even a Root Beer Float Ice Cream Cake.
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