I'm gearing up for a trip to New Orleans next week. With visions of crab cakes dancing in my head, I decided to make a spinoff at home. So as not to spoil my appétit for the real deal, I used Caribbean flavors and shrimp, basing the cakes on coconut shrimp and orange marmalade, another favorite of mine.
I threw in some sweet and cooling notes with fresh pineapple and sofrito, a Caribbean aromatic staple of cilantro, onion and garlic that can be likened to the French's mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) or Cajun/Creole cuisine's trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper.
You can buy shrimp a number of ways, but you'll get the best flavor if you buy fresh. (Frozen seafood often has a compromised texture because the water in cells expands and causes them to rupture, resulting in water loss during thawing and cooking.) And check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch" (www.montereybayaquarium.org) to learn more about shrimp that is as sustainably sourced as possible. On one hand, trawl-caught shrimp from the wild often means a lot of wasted catch - other animals that are caught using this method. On the other hand, pollution and resource consumption are issues with farmed shrimp.
Once you have your shrimp, you may need to clean it up a bit. My partner was grossed out when she found out why I "deveined" the shrimp. All creatures great and small have tubes, and that tube leads out. Shrimp have open circulatory systems, and they do have a heart connected to an aorta that runs down their back, alongside their digestive tract. The dark matter you see is what the shrimp had for dinner. Not everyone removes this, but it's easy enough to take out that I like to keep that out of my dinner!
Caribbean Coconut Shrimp Cakes
Makes 14-16 2-ounce cakes
I bought "21-30 count" (i.e., large) shrimp, chopped coarsely because I wanted to keep my cakes meaty. You can also pulse half or all of the shrimp in a food processor for a finer texture and more bind. If you do want a finer texture, there's no need to spring for larger shrimp, which cost more. This recipe is spicy; to reduce the heat, cut cayenne and cumin in half or omit.
3/4 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined, chopped to size of personal preference
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
pineapple core, chopped, from 1 fresh pineapple (reserved from broiled pineapple)
1 egg, plus 1 egg white, beaten
1/3 cup coconut milk
2-1/2 cups panko crumbs
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
Refined coconut oil (for medium to high heat) or vegetable oil for cooking
7 ounce package flaked coconut
Remove exoskeleton of shrimp by cutting down the center of the back with kitchen shears or gently pulling it away with your hands. Then use the tip of a paring knife to make a shallow slit down the back to expose the digestive tract. Tease it loose with the tip of the knife and pull out. Rinse shrimp and set aside.
Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Cook onions until barely translucent, about 5 minutes, then add garlic, shrimp and spices and stir until evenly coated and shrimp just starts to turn opaque and juices start to release.
Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool and drain in a colander.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg. Mix in coconut milk and add drained shrimp mixture and pineapple. Use clean hands to work in breadcrumbs until consistency allows mixture to hold together without excessive moisture. Add more panko if too wet; more coconut milk if too dry.
Use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to portion cakes - ball up mixture in palms and roll in coconut.
Gently press balls into cakes about 2 inches in diameter and arrange on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes.
To cook, put enough oil in a sauté pan to cover the surface with a thin film. Heat over medium to medium-high heat. You can do a test with one cake - coconut burns easily, so adjust if your oil is too hot.
Gently place cakes in pan and cook 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. If you like your shrimp coarsely chopped like I do, use extra care when flipping - a spatula and fork work well together to keep the cake together.
Serve with broiled pineapple and orange marmalade sauce.
Orange marmalade and habanero sauce
Makes 1 cup
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons mustard (I use Coleman's)
2 habaneros, minced
Mix all ingredients together until well blended. Chill until ready for use.
1 fresh pineapple, rind removed
1/4 c. brown sugar
Turn on broiler.
Cut pineapple into half-inch rounds. Remove core by cutting around it with a paring knife; poke out core. If making coconut shrimp cakes (above), reserve core for recipe. Place cored rings in a large bowl and use hands to apply an even, light coat of brown sugar.
Arrange slices on a lightly greased cookie sheet and broil for 5-7 minutes or until browned. Serve immediately.