Thursday, February 19, 2009

Island Time

Island time [noun]:

1. A pervasive attitude typical of residents of beautiful tropical islands such as Puerto Rico, characterized by relaxed movements, slow speech, and an unhurried demeanor.

Ex:) "Don't expect the waitress to refill your beer anytime soon. Everyone here's on island time."

The above photo should strike jealousy deep in the heart of all you Chicagoans. Why? because I took it in Puerto Rico, where Ross and went for 5 days over Valentine's Day weekend to escape the cold.

Upon our return (sadly, too soon), I couldn't bear to start eating cold-weather food again right away. Hence, CASHEW-BREADED SHRIMP WITH BELL PEPPER JASMINE RICE.

I realized it was the perfect opportunity for a Fearless post when I asked Ross what he wanted for dinner and he replied, "Coconut fried shrimp." Not only had I never before cooked coconut fried shrimp, I have really never fried anything! Well, not in the traditional sense of the word.

There's a big difference between pan-frying a piece of fish, for instance, and DEEP-frying something like chicken or shrimp. The difference is really only about how much oil you use, but deep frying is a lot scarier, because the oil tends to pop out of the pan (I had a terrifying fried-chicken experience back in college, and it left me scarred - literally and figuratively).

Nonetheless, fried shrimp sounded like the perfect way to try and make our tropical getaway last just a little bit longer, so I sucked it up and faced the frying pan!

I went to Trader Joe's to pick up the ingredients, and to my dismay, they didn't have flaked coconut (dried pomelos, they had, but coconut - nowhere to be found). But I still wanted something to add a little magic to the shrimp. I thought that I could easily replace the coconut flake flavor with a coconut milk sauce, so I decided on cashews as the wildcard. They really took it to the next level. Read on!


1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp (I got a bag of frozen and just let them thaw in the sink)
1 c. dry jasmine or other rice
1 red bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1/2 white onion
1/3 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1 T. olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. panko-style seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 c. flour, seasoned with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper
1 c. lightly salted cashews, crushed
salt and pepper
1/2 can light coconut milk
1/2 jar sweet Asian chile sauce (about 2/3 c.)
About 2 c. oil for frying (I used 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 canola oil)


Cook rice according to package directions, seasoning with a little salt. Set aside and keep warm.


Chop bell pepper and onion into large chunks. In a large skillet, heat 1 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the peppers, onion, and halved tomatoes until tender, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Mix into the rice and keep warm.


Thaw and rinse the shrimp and allow to drain thoroughly. Working on as much counter real estate as your kitchen will allow, set out four plates. In the first, place the seasoned flour. In the second, place the beaten egg (or keep it in a shallow bowl). In the third, mix together the crushed cashews and the breadcrumbs to make the coating. Use the fourth as the resting place for the coated shrimp.


To get the shrimp coated, dredge each one in flour, then coat in egg, then thoroughly dredge in the cashew-breadcrumbs. Set aside.


In a large pan with somewhat tall edges, heat the frying oil over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble (small bubbles, not a full-on boil). I tested the heat by placing a test shrimp in the oil. Adjust the heat so that the shrimp begin to cook immediately when placed in the oil. Don't overcrowd the pan - I did mine in three batches (about 6 shrimp per batch). Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, turning when they are brown and crispy. Cook on the other side until they are evenly brown and crispy on both sides. Remove from the oil and place on a plate covered in paper towels to drain.


To make the coconut sauce, simply combine the coconut milk and the sweet chile sauce, and whisk over medium heat until very hot. Place the shrimp over the rice and top with the sauce. Enjoy!


Ross: The cashews in the breading really give it a nice crunch. And I like how the coconut sauce isn't overly coconutty. I definitely didn't think I'd have better seafood when I got back from Puerto Rico than I did when I was IN Puerto Rico.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: 9 stars. I have to say, I surprised myself. The shrimp were really delicious - not oversalted (they could've used a bit more seasoning, actually), perfectly crisp but not soggy or greasy, and the sauce was a nice sweet complement to their savoriness. Next time, I'd add some more chile sauce to add heat. The one thing I felt like the dish was missing - perhaps only aesthetically - was something green. Next time I'd add some fresh cilantro to the rice, and maybe some steamed bok choy or a spinach salad as a side dish. It was a delicious culinary trip back to the island!

Thanks for reading! Adios for now...

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