I ate the best crispy coconut prawns at The Green Turtle, a charming little restaurant on a white sand beach in Mozambique. Everything about that experience was magical – the spotless sand beside the turquoise Indian Ocean, the beautiful verandah-style restaurant, the delicious coconut water and rum cocktails and of course, golden, crispy and succulent coconut crusted prawns served in a coconut shell..
Crispy coconut prawns are a popular appetiser and you can find many versions across food blogs. Some are battered and then coated with desiccated coconut. This, I think is how most people cook this dish. I’ve come across a few recipes that use fresh coconut, which I think may turn out somewhat less crispy than those coated with desiccated coconut.
I wanted to try a version of coconut prawns that would be flavoured with fresh curry leaves – a touch of South India if you like. I also wanted to go batter-less; to make my job less messy and to keep the prawns a little light. My coconut prawns turned out crisp; not snap crackle crisp but crunchy enough to make everyone at home very happy. Dried coconut flakes that I used provided the crunch and the curry leaves lent their sharp, green, earthy pungency to the prawns.
To infuse the prawns with the flavour and aroma of curry leaves, I marinated them for an hour in a mixture of halfa beaten egg, a little flour, salt and crushed black pepper and finely chopped fresh curry leaves. In fact, I learnt many years ago that adding a few minced curry leaves along with whole ones to typically South Indian dishes, just amps up the curry leaf hit a few notches. It’s the kind of wafting aroma that enters the room a few steps ahead of the dish. Seafood, coconuts and curry leaves are born of the green coastline of India, sharing a habitat and DNA that makes them so perfect with each other. Not wanting to crowd the sweetness of the prawns, I kept the seasoning down to a little garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Deviating from desiccated coconut, which is more like a powder, I opted for dry coconut flakes. Delicately thin, white curls of white coconut flesh, these are easily available in stores. The egg in the marinade helps them adhere to the prawns. When fried, they turn a burnished golden, adding crunch to the succulent meatiness of the prawns.
The aim was to taste the deep friendship between the fresh, sea-scented prawns, the articulate curry leaves and the subtle, sweet crunch of the coconut. These were clean flavours, a delight to partake on a hot afternoon with a glass of chilled chardonnay or a light beer. I made a Indonesian-style peanut sauce to go with the curry leaf coconut prawns. The recipe for which I’ll be posting separately.
I will tell you with little or no modesty that these crispy coconut prawns are a crowd-pleaser and with the curry leaves adding a twist, they’re something different than the regular fried coconut prawns. Do make them.
Tips And Tricks For Deep Frying Seafood
- When it comes to coconut prawns, size matters. Medium to large ones are the best simply because small shrimps do not finger food make and are cumbersome to coat and fry up individually. Also simply because a bigger surface area for the coconut to stick ensures a greater crunch factor.
- Make sure your shellfish are deveined and butterflied (a thin slit with a sharp knife along the back) so that they cook faster and more evenly (again, more surface area).
- Refrigerate the prawns once they are coated with coconut to firm them up and dry-off some of the moisture in the marinade or batter, to get crispier results. In fact, once coated, you can freeze a few in an airtight box to fry-up late. Just pop the frozen prawns into the hot oil.
- Vegetable oils such as peanut, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, soybean etc have a high smoking point (the temperature at which oil starts smoking and turns acrid) and are perfect for deep frying. You need at least 3-4 inches of oil, so use a pan or pot that’s not too wide.
- The oil should be medium hot, about 180℃. Under heated oil means oily prawns while very hot oil will burn the coconut crust. Test the temperature with a cube of bread, if it sizzles and browns in 15-20 seconds, your oil is right. If you want to be precise, use an oil thermometer.
- Patience is the key to perfect deep frying, so avoid crowding the pan with too many prawns or else they’ll end up steaming and yielding water instead of deep frying. Fry only a few at a time in batches. Make sure to drain the coconut prawns on paper towels, kitchen paper etc to remove the extra oil.
Crispy Curry Leaf Coconut Prawns
- 500 g medium-large prawns shelled, deveined and butterflied
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 tbsp AP flour
- 7-8 curry leaves minced finely
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder / 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1/2 tsp black pepper powder freshly ground
- 300 g dried coconut flakes (unsweetened)
- Vegetable oil enough for deep frying
- Put the prawns in a bowl. Add ½ the beaten egg, flour, minced curry leaves, garlic powder, salt and pepper; mix well and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Spread the coconut flakes on a wide plate and press the prawns one-by-one on the coconut so that each one is coated by coconut on all sides. Arrange on a plate and chill uncovered in the fridge for 2 hours at least.
- Heat 3 inches of oil in a pan on medium heat till hot but not smoking.
- Drop a few prawns (3-4 depending on the width of the pan) in the oil and deep fry till golden (about 2-3 minutes).
- Drain on kitchen towel. Fry all the prawns this way and while you do so, keep the fried ones warm in a low oven. Serve warm with your favourite dipping sauce.