The Surreal Gourmet Goes Cuckoo for Coconut Shrimp Lollypops
I used to be filled with guilt when I caught myself dreaming about what I was going to have for dinner as I ate my lunch. Now that I've written three cookbooks and have my own show on the Food Network, I feel guilty when I don't spend enough time thinking about food - specifically new recipes. So when I'm not thinking about sex, wine or world peas, I focus on conjuring up carrot cake cappuccinos and turkey parfaits. Not a bad gig if you have to work for a living. But it's not without its pitfalls - cuts, burns, impossibly high expectations, stalkers and countless journeymen chefs willing my cocky ass to fail so that they can step into my timeslot.
Back when Jamie Oliver really was naked - save for a pair of diapers - publishers were tripping over themselves to release collections of classic cooking techniques and traditional recipes. And the few cooking shows on the air were all about the basic homemaker solutions. Then, Wham, Bam! cooking entered the world of pop culture with the speed and force of a grease fire. And just like with MTV video concepts, almost every trick in the book was quickly exploited. Only occasionally does a totally fresh idea like the White Stripes' animated LEGO video for "Fell in Love with a Girl" inspire one to realize that there must still be a few new culinary tricks left to shake out.
The epicenter of my recipe testing is my low-tech kitchen, in which the flea market collectibles far outnumber the functional appliances. This culinary mosh pit is anchored by an ancient butcher block, a George Jetson refrigerator and a 40-year-old gas stove with a mind of its own. In my never-ending quest to create quirky presentations and bold new flavors that cause your lips to quiver and your eyes to roll back in your head, I lock myself in the kitchen with a shopping cart full of ingredients, a stack of CDs and a few bottles of inspiration. Then the carnage begins, and the food flies. I don't come out until the sink is full, the bottles are empty and the battery on my smoke alarm has every ounce of alkaline drained from it. If after tasting endless test versions, I still have the enthusiasm to try another bite, I lure the neighbors in for a second opinion.
More often than not, it's back to the cutting board, but every once in a while the results, like these coconut shrimp lollypops, are worthy of being added to the repertoire. When that happens, the first thing I do is call Wine X and tell 'em to print the sucka before Red Lobster puts it on its menu and shrimp end up on the endangered species list. Now, that would make me feel really guilty.
Coconut Shrimp Lollypops with Apricot Dipping Sauce
All it takes to perfect this recipe is a $2 coconut, a handful of common ingredients and a sense of adventure.
(makes 12 lollypops, serving 4-6 as an appetizer)
COCONUT SHRIMP LOLLYPOPS
1 coconut, or 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup beer
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cayenne pepper
12 shrimp (26-30 count) shelled and deveined
12 6-inch bamboo skewers
3-5 cups peanut or vegetable oil
Pierce the soft eye of the coconut and drain the coconut water. Reserve. Smash the center of the coconut against the edge of a concrete step until it cracks in half.
Take the half with the holes and separate the coconut meat from the shell. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the brown skin from the meat. Using the medium-fine part of your grater, shred 2 cups of coconut.
Pour coconut water into a measuring cup and if necessary top off with beer until you have 3/4 cup of liquid. Reserve. If using store-bought shredded coconut (and consequently don't have any coconut water) simply use 3/4 cup of beer.
In a large bowl, combine flour, coconut water/beer mixture, baking soda, salt, cayenne and egg. Beat until smooth. Add a bit more flour or beer, if necessary, so that the mixture has the consistency of thick pancake batter.
Tightly wrap each shrimp like a pinwheel (with the tail of the shrimp on the outside) and skewer one shrimp on the end of each skewer, starting at the tail, so that it stays pinwheeled. Use a paper towel to pat dry the shrimp.
Pour oil into a small, tall pot until it's two inches deep. Heat oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (See oil dissertation below.)
While the oil is heating, dip each shrimp into the batter, then dredge in the coconut shreds so the entire "lollypop" is covered in coconut.
When oil is ready, submerge four shrimp at a time into oil (with the skewers sticking out of the pot). Fry approximately one minute, or until coconut is a golden brown, rotating the top of the skewer once or twice. Remove and place pops on paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Skim any wayward coconut shreds from the oil. Adjust heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit again and continue with next batch. Serve with dipping sauce. For a creative presentation, stick skewers into a pineapple or melon half and/or serve dip in the remaining coconut half.
APRICOT-GINGER DIPPING SAUCE
1/2 cup of apricot jam
1 T freshly grated ginger
1 T Dijon mustard
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds discarded, minced
2 T seasoned rice wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lime juice
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
An important note on cooking with oil: oil temperature is very important. If it's too high, food burns. Too low? Food turns out greasy. If you don't have a thermometer, stick a 1/2-inch cube of bread on a skewer and dip it in the oil. If the oil bubbles, but the bread doesn't brown, continue heating the oil. If the bread browns instantly, the oil temperature is too high. If the bread turns into a golden crouton in 5 to 10 seconds, you're set to fry.
Hot oil is very dangerous. If you leave it unattended, don't bring my name up at the trial. The best way to put out an oil fire (God forbid) is to smother it with a tightly fitting lid.