I know what you're going to say. This doesn't look like the coconut shrimp we had on Maui???!!! And you're right, it doesn't. Nobody knows better than me what that kind of coconut shrimp looks like, since during my years cooking at Aloha Mixed Plate, I fried up thousands upon thousands of those suckers. Yes, shredded coconut and fried shrimp is delicious, but to this day I won't order it just on principle. I'm still traumatized. And if you think I had it bad, spare a thought for Auntie Lovey, who was our veteran prep cook: Every day, she'd have to bread two thousand shrimp in under three hours.
But beyond my culinary PTSD, there is another reason why I'm jaded. For the most part, locals don't eat coconut shrimp. It's pure haole bait. Going to Hawaii to eat coconut shrimp would be like bragging about all the California rolls you ate in Tokyo.
But rather than be a hater, I try to be constructive with such opinions. So, I thought back to the shrimp dishes that, to me, symbolized celebration and indulgence. My mind went back to special occasions, when my family would go to Sun Sun Lau, a bygone Chinese restaurant in Hilo, and order honey-walnut shrimp. The shrimp were flash-fried in cornstarch and then covered in a sweet, condensed-milk-and-mayonnaise-based sauce and served with crunchy honey walnuts. Broke. The. Mouth.
So that's how we got here: coconut shrimp reimagined as honey-walnut shrimp. Instead of sweetened condensed milk, I reduce coconut milk down to a creamy sauce and, rather than candied walnuts, I use oven-baked candied coconut chips, a crispy snack that you'll find sold in local gift shops (easy to make it yourself, though). Even better than Leung's, I daresay. Let's get coconut shrimp 2.0 trending and maybe, just maybe, unseat the original.
For the sweetened condensed coconut milk:
In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil over medium-high heat and whisk in the sugar. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is thickened and reduced by half, 30-40 minutes. Let cool before using. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.
For the coconut shrimp:1.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, condensed coconut milk, lemon juice and salt and white pepper to taste. Set the sauce aside.2.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, club soda, 1 cup of the mochiko, the cornstarch, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. Let stand for 5-10 minutes so the flour can hydrate.3.
Place the shrimp on a baking sheet and pat dry with paper towels.4.
Meanwhile, prepare a wire rack or line a baking sheet with paper towels. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet with at least 2 inches of oil, making sure to leave a few inches of clearance from the pot's rim. Heat over high heat until the oil reaches 350 F (use a thermometer), adjusting the heat as needed to maintain temperature. Place the remaining 1 cup mochiko in a shallow dish or pan and coat the shrimp, shaking off any excess, then dip into the batter, letting the excess drip off.5.
Once the oil is ready, fry the shrimp in batches until they turn pink and the coating is golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack or paper towels and let cool slightly.6.
In a medium bowl, toss the warm shrimp with 1/2 cup of the reserved sauce, adding more if needed to evenly coat (but not drown) the shrimp. Spoon any remaining sauce onto a plate and top with the shrimp. Garnish with the coconut candy, fried garlic and scallions. Serve with rice or garlic noodles.
Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai'i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright© 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House." Photography copyright: Kevin J. Miyazaki © 2021.