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Why am I so amped up about this seemingly simple coconut shrimp dish? Pull up some chopsticks and let me share my story.
I am, in no way, shape, or form, a stranger to coconuts. In fact, I’ve always had a strong affection for the round, tender fruit. Could be the smell, as it draws me right back to childhood summers spent at my beloved Wrightsville Beach.
One whiff of a nutty, tropical coconut, and I’m transported straight to those steamy, sun-kissed days on the North Carolina shore. And along with yellow boogie boards, sand behind my ears, and the chlorine-scented condo pool that energized my salty skin after a long day in the crashing waves, there’s one thing I’ll never forget:
My favorite summertime snack, a rice cake smeared with sticky peanut butter.
Not sure where I’m going with this? Stick with me.
I can still remember sitting in the shade, devouring those chewy, tin foil wrapped midday treats as the perfume of coconut tanning spray filled the ocean air.
And thus, my undying love for the duo of peanut butter and coconut was born.
I’ve spent many hours of my culinary career chasing after delicious ways to tangle these two ingredients back together, and bring those beach memories back to life.
From nutty chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce to a thick dip for light, fresh spring rolls, I’ve fashioned my fair share of coconut-peanut creations.
In this recipe, I tossed a third (essential) ingredient into the mix. When you try this, shrimp as you know it will never be the same.
Enter: roasted red chili paste.
If you delight in preparing homemade Asian delicacies as much as I do, you’re probably familiar with the store-bought pastes that are available from various brands in bottles and jars at the supermarket. Not only are these time-savers convenient, but their concentrated flavors add an unmistakable oomph to many dishes.
I’ve always been a sucker for red curry paste as I love weaving it into an array of fresh aromatics – lemongrass, ginger, and so on. The real beauty of these premade pastes is that all you need to add is coconut milk and you’ve got a bomb base for a stir fry, soup, or curry.
The first time I tried Thai roasted red chili paste, I was instantly blown away by its complexity. On the nose, it’s pungent with a heavy dose of fish sauce and chilies. Blended into the sauce for this dish, it lends a touch of spiciness, sweetness, and a distinctive tanginess.
After whisking the paste into my coconut milk and peanut butter blend, I flavored it with bright lime juice, savory soy sauce, tangy rice vinegar, and oniony scallions. Suddenly, a sauce emerged that I couldn’t keep my hands off of.
Seriously, I used my finger to swipe every last drop out of the pan.
At that moment, I realized that this dish was special. It wasn’t traditional red curry. It wasn’t crackly, breaded coconut shrimp dunked in sweet chili sauce. It was somewhere in between, and yet somewhere so far away at the same time.
It was luxuriously rich, decadently nutty, slightly spicy, and it came together in mere minutes. And then, just like that – like cherished childhood beach vacations with my family – it was gone.Print
Give shrimp a sweet and spicy makeover with red chili coconut sauce. It’s swimming with savory soy, scallions, and peanut butter.
- 1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp (or about 16 large,) peeled and deveined with the tails on
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons Thai roasted red chili paste
- 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce (optional, for added heat)
- 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
- 1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons), plus additional lime wedges for garnish
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and light green parts only, divided
- Season the shrimp with the salt and pepper and then dredge them in the cornstarch, shaking to remove any excess. In a large skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil and swirl to coat the pan. Saute the shrimp until bright pink and opaque, about 2 minutes per side. Set aside on a plate.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan. Saute the garlic until softened and very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the Thai chili paste, chili garlic sauce, and peanut butter and whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Whisk in the coconut milk and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking often, until the sauce becomes smooth. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 minute.
- Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Season to taste for additional salt, and then add the shrimp. Toss in the sauce until thoroughly coated, garnish with the remaining green onions, and serve warm with the lime wedges.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Shrimp
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Seafood
Keywords: shrimp, peanut butter, chili paste, coconut milk
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Season the Shrimp and Chop the Aromatics
Season the shrimp with the salt and pepper and then dredge them in the cornstarch, shaking to remove any excess. The cornstarch will give them a nice crispy exterior.
Step 2 – Cook the Shrimp and Saute the Garlic
In a large skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil and swirl to coat the pan. Saute the shrimp until they are bright pink and opaque, about 2 minutes per side. Set aside on a plate.
Add the remaining coconut oil and swirl to coat the pan. Saute the garlic until it’s softened and very fragrant, about 1 minute.
Step 3 – Begin Building the Red Chili Coconut Sauce
Add the Thai chili paste, chili garlic sauce, and peanut butter to the pan, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
Whisk in the coconut milk and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking often, until the sauce becomes smooth. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for 1 minute.
Step 4 – Whisk in the Remaining Ingredients
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Season to taste if it needs any additional salt.
Step 5 – Toss the Shrimp in the Sauce, Garnish, and Serve
Add the shrimp to the pan and toss them in the sauce until they are thoroughly coated. Garnish with the remaining green onions, and then serve warm with the lime wedges on the side.
Peanut Butter for President
I’m not saying that the roasted red chili paste and coconut milk aren’t major players in this sauce, but man – that peanut butter.
Creamy, dreamy, nutty, salty, and sweet, peanut butter will always have my heart (and my vote if it ever decides to run for office).
If you’re wondering what in the world to serve this dish with, let me stop you right there. You can’t go wrong.
If you’re feeling carb-friendly, rice noodles and extra hot sauce are the answer.
If you’re keeping it green, toss it over a pile of sauteed bok choy or wrap the shrimp in butter lettuce leaves and use the sauce as a dip.
Did this recipe entice you to explore even more ways to smother delicious shrimp in sweet, tangy sauce? These dishes will get you started:
- Lightened Up Sweet and Sour Coconut Shrimp
- Shrimp Pad Thai with Tamarind and Peanuts
- Sweet and Sour Prawns
A little crunch on top never hurt anyone, whether it’s toasted sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, or fried shallots.
How will you amp up the texture of these shrimp? Share your favorite crispy garnishes in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 26, 2014. Last updated on January 29, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”