Coconut Dragons For St. George's Day

by Melody Kettle

It’s Saint George’s Day! And to most people that respond with a blank stare that connotes “so what” until they are reminded of St George and the Dragon.  Then images of knights and dragons, of ladies in waiting and castles, of noble steeds and regal crowns come to mind; oh what a glorious feast! But what’s the real story.

Yes, St Georges Day is a Feast Day on the Christian calendar. Not to get all theological and everything, but in Christianity the idea of a feast day, a celebratory meal, for the defenders of the faith is a time honored tradition. The day is usually marked on the day the person died as it marks the day they joined God in Heaven. Just think of the American “feast days”: Independence Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day when viewed in contrast to secular days the idea of religious feast days is more easily understood, Americans mark both days of victory and days of loss. It also it easy to understand a Christian dilemma – with just over 230 years of history our schedule is full of holidays, compare that to two millennia of Christian feast days and it’s easy to understand how some of the saints, and their feasts are overlooked.

St. George is an interesting bloke. Born in what is now Eastern Turkey in AD 270 he became a Roman Soldier and rose to the rank of Tribunus Militum Eventually he protested against  the Emperor Diocletian  who led Rome’s persecution of Christians. This led to his arrest and beheading on 23 April 303 AD. Stories are told, and shared, and passed on. Metaphors are introduced and in the case of St George those who fought against, the Pagans of Rome, were symbolized by a dragon. St George is the patron St of England and the former soviet state of Georgia. His feast day is also marked through much of Eastern Europe.

How can a suburban American celebrate St George’s Day? With Coconut Dragons of course!

Dragon meat is very expensive and hard to come by, so we’re using shrimp instead.

For these Coconut Shrimp, er, Coconut Dragons, the recipe is really simple and is more about “eyeballing” things than anything else. The ingredients are simple, shrimp, virgin coconut oil, cayenne, and panko.

Virgin Coconut Oil (I get mine at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) is the star flavor here. Processed, refined, and hydrogenated coconut oil lack the coconut flavor we’re seeking. It melts at 76 degrees Fahrenheit so a jar in the cupboard might be a solid in the winter months and an oil in the summer. It’s high fat content helps it resist rancidity so it can be stored for up to two years. It’s also well suited for cooking at high temperatures, so if you’re thinking of bringing some coconut flavor to a stir fry virgin coconut oil is a great choice.

Frozen shrimp, thawed at room temperature, are ideal. Cayenne is my usual flavor accent, but a wee bit curry powder is a great option. Panko are simply Japanese style breadcrumbs that just about everyone uses nowadays.

Using melted coconut oil, toss just enough with the shrimp to make them glisten. ( we’re talking a tablesppon or two to start) Toss it quickly, if the shrimp is cold the coconut oil will start to harden, and look like white versions of chopped chocolate chips) don’t fret, it’s still workable. Then sprinkle with a bit of cayenne and then a handful of panko at a time, tossing after each addition of panko.

Unlike the battered, deep fried varieties of coconut  shrimp only some of the panko will cling to the shrimp, it’s role in this dish is to provide some crunch and hold some of that great coconut flavor.  We’re not looking to fully coat the shrimp.

Spread the shrimp on a baking sheet. If there are coconut oil “crumbs” and some panko remaining in the bowl I usually sprinkle them over the shrimp. In the same way a crumb topping comes together on a pie, those coconut oil crumbs and panko will work here. Bake at 400 F for 8 – 10 minutes until the panko is golden.

For a dipping sauce Trader Joe’s Sweet Chili Sauce is top drawer, but a little melted orange marmalade with a sparkle of chili powder is great too.