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Appetizer and Sides Caribbean Cuisine Recipes

Coconut Shrimp (Fried + Air Fryer) with a Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

You do not have to travel far to feel like you are on a Caribbean island with these delicious and crispy coconut shrimp. Dip the coconut shrimp with a Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce and you might just take a dip into a swimming pool too!

My coconut shrimp recipe is easy to make in both an air fryer and frying in oil. So whether you want to go with the traditional cooking method or a healthy alternative, my recipe can accommodate both. It is also GLUTEN-FREE!

Moreover, these coconut shrimp are so addicting that when you serve them to your family and friends, they will think they are eating at an all-inclusive resort because they will just keep asking for more!

You can eat the tasty coconut shrimp on its own or you can serve it with a Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce for a sweet, spicy, and tangy finish. Enjoy it as an appetizer, main entree, in the comfort of your home, or by the swimming pool – no matter what, it will be an instant hit!

Coconut crusted shrimp with parsley on top and surrounded by a side of sweet red bell pepper chili sauce.



Enjoying Coconut Shrimp in the Caribbean

I grew up devouring coconut shrimp at my grandparent’s house every summer. My grandfather worked at a seafood company, so he would bring home huge Texas gulf shrimp. Then my “Martha Stewart” grandmother would bread it in coconut and fry it to golden brown perfection.

Fast forward to my honeymoon in St. Lucia at Jade Mountain, and their coconut shrimp rocked my socks off! Thank goodness we had an all-inclusive plan because we would order coconut shrimp on the beach, on the boat, and for lunch, every day. The St. Lucia coconut shrimp were so flavorful, they only served it on a bed of shaved pineapple – no sauce was needed because the breading was perfectly sweet with a hint of spice.

It is no surprise St. Lucia had some of the best coconut shrimp we ever tasted because the island is known for its coconut plantations. Visitors can tour coconut plantations, see coconut trees along the road, and ride jungle bikes near coconut trees.

In fact, during our jungle bike ride (one of our favorites activities in St. Lucia), a coconut dropped right in front of us. Our guide saved it for the end of our ride, took a machete, and chopped it open before our eyes. We ended up drinking straight from the coconut and it was so refreshing. Needless to say, coconut plays a HUGE role in St. Lucian cuisine, so eating endless coconut shrimp is essential.

Coconut shrimp laying on a cooling rack.

More recently, we went to Grand Cayman island and again, had countless coconut shrimp at our all-inclusive resort. The coconut shrimp at Grand Cayman was served with an unbelievable sweet chili sauce dipping sauce. Hence why I have incorporated a dipping sauce to accompany my coconut shrimp recipe.

Whether I am devouring coconut shrimp at my grandmother’s house, in St. Lucia, or in Grand Cayman, I LOVE coconut shrimp and I hope you will love my recipe too!



Frying in Oil vs. Air Fryer

There is no wrong way to fry coconut shrimp. You can fry them in oil (the traditional method) or in an air fryer. It really depends on someone’s personal choice.

When you fry in oil, the coconut shrimp will get a beautiful golden brown and crispy exterior. So that when you bite into the shrimp, you will literally hear a “crunch”.

Whereas an air fryer will still have a crispy exterior, but it will not be the same as a deep fryer. The air fryer circulates heat on all sides to “fry” the food, but personally, I think it has more of a baked taste and feel.

A plate of two different fried coconut shrimp. On the left is coconut shrimp fried in oil. On the right is coconut shrimp fried in an air fryer.
  • Frying the coconut shrimp in oil keeps the shrimp juicy vs. the air fryer can dry out the shrimp and feel baked.
  • An air fryer takes longer to fry food.
  • Frying in oil coats the shrimp in grease vs. air fryer is not greasy at all and you can REALLY taste the flavor.
    • In fact, the cayenne is more present in the air fryer coconut shrimp.
  • An air fryer is a healthy alternative to deep-frying – it can reduce at least 70% calories and has a lot less fat.



List of Ingredients for Coconut Shrimp and a Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

The shrimp can be either fresh or frozen, but I prefer frozen that has the tail on, already peeled (or easy-peel), and deveined. Breading and frying coconut shrimp is easy but time-consuming enough. So getting shrimp that is ready-to-go helps cut a lot of labor.

A plate of air fryer coconut shrimp with parsley sprinkled on top.

For the Coconut Shrimp

  • Jumbo shrimp (tail-on, peeled, and deveined)
  • Cornstarch
  • Egg whites
  • Water
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

For the Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

  • Red bell peppers
  • Sugar
  • White wine vinegar
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ginger, grated
  • Garlic, minced
  • Cornstarch
  • Water



How to Make Crispy Coconut Shrimp

Making crispy Caribbean coconut shrimp might be a little time consuming, but it is still easy. More importantly, it’s a lot of fun! I like to use plastic zipper bags during the breading process because it’s faster, keeps yours hands slightly cleaner, and its’s easier to cleanup (just throw the bags and everything left over in it away).

Additionally, if you have children or friends and family in the kitchen – making coconut shrimp is a great thing to do together. After all, cooking is all about bringing people together.

A plate of coconut shrimp mounted on top of each other with a small ramekin of sweet red bell pepper chili sauce.


For Breading the Coconut Shrimp

Breading the coconut shrimp is the MOST IMPORTANT STEP! Especially the egg whites. Too much egg whites or not frothed enough and the coconut-panko breading will fall off when it’s being fried.

Before you prepare the breading station, pat shrimp dry and set aside.

First, mix the cornstarch, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in a plastic zipper bag. Second, whisk the egg whites and water together in a small bowl until the whites are very frothy. Third, in another plastic zipper bag, mix the unsweetened coconut flakes and panko bread crumbs.

Now you can prepare your breading station. Starting from left to right: the patted dry shrimp, followed by the cornstarch mix, egg whites, coconut-panko mix, and lastly, a sheet tray with a cooling rack on top.

Working in small batches of 4 – 6 shrimp at a time, begin the breading process. You will be working left to right. Place the shrimp in the cornstarch mix, zip the plastic bag, and shake until the shrimp are completely covered. Using your hands, shake any excess off.

Then lightly dredge the shrimp in the egg whites. You also want to lightly scrape any excess by using the side of the bowl.

Place the coated shrimp into the coconut-panko mix, zip the plastic bag, and softly shake until the shrimp are completely coated. If needed, gently press some of the coconut-panko on the shrimp to ensure it sticks.

Lastly, transfer the coated shrimp on the cooling rack with the sheet tray and repeat the process until all the shrimp are breaded. Fry the shrimp immediately or refrigerate until ready to fry.


For Cooking Coconut Shrimp in Oil

If you want to fry your coconut shrimp in vegetable oil, please follow the following directions.

Crispy Caribbean coconut shrimp

In a large deep-sided saute pan, add enough vegetable oil until it reaches a depth of 2 inches and let it heat to about 350ºF.

Once the oil is ready, add 6 – 8 shrimp. You will know when the oil is ready when the oil starts bubbling around the shrimp right away. Do not overcrowd the saute pan with shrimp or the oil temperature will drop too low. Cook the shrimp for 2 minutes per side or until the shrimp curl up into a “C” shape and are golden brown.

Remove the shrimp with a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and place it on a plate with a paper towel. The paper towel will help absorb extra oil and grease. Repeat the process until finished.


For Cooking Coconut Shrimp in Air Fryer

If you want to fry your coconut shrimp in vegetable oil, please follow the following directions.

Air fryer coconut shrimp

Preheat the air fryer 380ºF.

Lightly spray vegetable oil on the air fryer basket, place shrimp in a single layer, and spray vegetable oil on the shrimp. Close the air fryer basket and cook for 4 minutes. Do not overcrowd shrimp into the air fryer basket or the heat will not be able to circulate evenly.

After 4 minutes, open the air fryer basket, flip the shrimp over, and spray the shrimp again. Close the air fryer basket and cook for 4 more minutes or until golden brown.

Remove the coconut shrimp and repeat the process until all the shrimp are cooked.


For the Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

People tell me that this sauce is SO GOOD, I should bottle and sell it! In fact, some friends and family will add this sauce to pasta, chicken wings, and more – they love it so much. I hope you do too.

In a food processor or blender, add the chopped red bell pepper, sugar, white wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, grated ginger, and minced garlic. Blend until the mixture is liquified and smooth.

Pour the mixture into a small saucepot and bring to a low boil/simmer. Occasionally stir the mixture and let it cook for 5 minutes.

Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer. You might need to use a rubber spatula to push the sauce through the strainer. Discard the solids. Pour the sauce back into the small saucepot.

Mix the cornstarch and water together to make a slurry. Add the cornstarch slurry to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer again for 2 minutes or until it has thickened (when it can coat the rubber spatula or wooden spoon).

Pour the sweet red bell pepper chili sauce into a container and allow it to chill in the refrigerator. The sauce can be made ahead of time.

A hand dipping coconut shrimp into a ramekin full of a sweet red bell pepper chili sauce.



Tips and Tidbits


Why Use Cornstarch Instead of Flour?

Cornstarch is the “secret” ingredient that helps give the coconut shrimp the extra crispy and crunchy texture. Whereas, flour can have a more tough, but still crunchy texture due to gluten formation. Cornstarch also helps make this recipe GLUTEN-FREE!


Worried About Oil Splattering On You?

This little tip and tidbit comes from my husband because I ALWAYS get “hurt” from oil popping. Oil is lighter than water. So when you are frying with oil, if any water droplets get into the oil, it creates a reaction. The water droplets turn to steam which rapidly rises out of the oil and escapes with a “pop” and a splashing of oil.

Thus, the reason why it is important to pay the shrimp dry, but sometimes the water droplets are inevitable. My husband’s solution is very simple – wear oven mats or breathable, long sleeves. You will be thanking my husband when you get that “pop” of oil but didn’t even feel it because your arms were covered.



More Coconut Recipes

Coconut Shrimp (Fried + Air Fryer) with Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

Coconut Shrimp (Fried + Air Fryer) with Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

Yield: 5 servings (45 shrimp)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Oil Fry Time: 12 minutes
Air Fryer Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 2 minutes

These crispy Caribbean coconut shrimp are slightly sweet with a little kick of spice. They can be fried to perfection in the deep fryer or air fryer! Serve them with this delicious sweet red bell pepper chili dipping sauce for a sweet, spicy, and tangy finish.

Ingredients

For the Coconut Shrimp

  • 2 lbs. jumbo shrimp (tail-on, peeled, and deveined)
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1  1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 3 cups vegetable oil, plus more if needed

For the Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch 
  • 1/2 tablespoon water

Instructions

For the Coconut Shrimp

  1. Pat shrimp dry. Set aside.
  2. In a plastic zipper bag, mix the cornstarch, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites and water together until it is very frothy.
  4. In another plastic zipper bag, mix the unsweetened coconut flakes and panko bread crumbs.
  5. Prepare your breading station. Starting from left to right: shrimp, cornstarch mix, egg whites, coconut-panko mix, and a sheet tray with a cooling rack on top.
  6. Working in small batches of 4 - 6 shrimp at a time, begin the breading process.
  7. You will be working left to right. Place the shrimp in the cornstarch mix, zip the plastic bag, and shake until the shrimp are completely covered. Using your hands, shake any excess off.
  8. Then lightly dredge the shrimp in the egg whites, and using the side of the bowl, lightly scrape any excess. (Too much egg whites on the shrimp and the breading will fall off when fried).
  9. Place the coated shrimp into the coconut-panko mix, zip the plastic bag, and softly shake until the shrimp are completely coated. If needed, gently press some of the coconut-panko on the shrimp to ensure it sticks.
  10. Lastly, transfer the coated shrimp on the cooling rack with the sheet tray and repeat the process until all the shrimp are breaded. Fry the shrimp immediately or refrigerate until ready to fry.

For Cooking in Oil

  1. In a large deep-sided saute pan, add enough vegetable oil until it reaches a depth of 2 inches and let it heat to about 350ºF.
  2. Once the oil is ready, add 6 - 8 shrimp. You will know when the oil is ready when the oil starts bubbling around the shrimp right away. Do not overcrowd the saute pan with shrimp or the oil temperature will drop too low. Cook the shrimp for 2 minutes per side or until the shrimp curl up into a "C" shape and are golden brown.
  3. Remove the shrimp with a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and place it on a plate with a paper towel. Repeat the process until finished.

For Cooking in an Air Fryer

  1. Preheat the air fryer 380ºF.
  2. Lightly spray vegetable oil on the air fryer basket, place shrimp in a single layer, and spray vegetable oil on the shrimp. Close the air fryer basket and cook for 4 minutes.
  3. After 4 minutes, open the air fryer basket, flip the shrimp over, and spray the shrimp again. Close the air fryer basket and cook for 4 more minutes or until golden brown.
  4. Remove the coconut shrimp and repeat the process until all the shrimp are cooked.

For the Sweet Red Bell Pepper Chili Sauce

  1. In a food processor or blender, add the chopped red bell pepper, sugar, white wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, grated ginger, and minced garlic. Blend until the mixture is liquified and smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture into a small saucepot and bring to a low boil/simmer. Occasionally stir the mixture and let it cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer. You might need to use a rubber spatula to push the sauce through the strainer. Discard the solids. Pour the sauce back into the small saucepot.
  4. Mix the cornstarch and water together to make a slurry. Add the cornstarch slurry to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer again for 2 minutes or until it has thickened (when it can coat the rubber spatula or wooden spoon).
  5. Pour the sweet red bell pepper chili sauce into a container and allow it to chill in the refrigerator. The sauce can be made ahead of time.

Notes

The air fryer coconut shrimp has more flavor. Especially a kick of cayenne pepper because the shrimp are not coated in grease from frying in vegetable oil. If you cannot tolerate spice, I recommend using 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper because you still want a hint of the cayenne flavor.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, when you click on the link you will have the option to purchase a product at no extra cost to you, but I would receive a small commission. I want to thank everyone for following and supporting us on all of “Our Sweet Adventures” and for cooking with my recipes on "Christina's Culinary Creations".

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