Crunchy Coconut Calamari (Shrimp or Tofu)

Calamari is dunked in buttermilk and rice flour, then coated with panko and shredded coconut for a crunchy protein addition to my Thai Roasted Vegetable Soup. This flexible recipe can be used successfully on tofu for a delicious and crunchy vegetarian option!

Crunchy Coconut Calamari on a square ceramic plate garnished with cilantro.

If you think it’s easy to write jokes about fried calamari, you’ve probably never tried.

~~ Scott Adams, American cartoonist and satirist (Dilbert)

Calamari is delicious, and Crunchy Coconut Calamari (Shrimp or Tofu) is doubly delicious! Beyond Mere Sustenance is all about “healthy food with a global flair;” this recipe is not the exception. It is possible to fry food and enjoy it with a guilt-free conscience…  😉

I don’t fry food often – mostly due to the clean up required afterward. However, there are dishes that scream for that satisfying crunch that fried food provides. Crunchy Coconut Calamari (Shrimp or Tofu) is the satisfying crunch that my recently posted Thai-Style Roasted Vegetable Soup simply must have – in my humble opinion! The subtly sweet, spicy coating on the chewy calamari pairs perfectly with the creamy, savory soup.

Your chosen protein (calamari, shrimp, tofu) gets a dunk in a rice flour and buttermilk batter. It is then pressed into a bowl of unsweetened grated coconut, panko, and cayenne. I have a love affair with calamari – probably due to the fact that I could never find it in Las Cruces, and it is readily available here in McAllen.

Shrimp and tofu also work well with this method. Shrimp will need to be shelled and deveined. Tofu should be extra firm, and moisture should be pressed out of 1/2″ thick slices before cubing, battering, and breading.

Fry up these tasty morsels in coconut oil with a hint of sesame oil. Yes, coconut oil has a high enough smoke point to make it suitable for frying, and it reinforces the coconut flavor of the shrimp.

Additionally, my Thai-Style Roasted Vegetable Soup has lite coconut milk, making it a perfect combination for coconut-lovers…  😀 Crunchy Coconut Calamari also pairs well with my Curried Okra and Eggplant… 

  • 1 pound calamari rings
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup rice flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups panko
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • refined coconut oil (see Tips)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • sea salt

🔪 Instructions

  1. Prepare the ingredients for coating the calamari – In a medium prep bowl, whisk together buttermilk and rice flour. In another medium prep bowl, combine salt, coconut, panko, and cayenne if using.
  2. Heat the oil – Combine oils in a skillet or saute pan to about 1/4-1/2″ deep. Bring oil temperature to between 350 and 375. If you don’t have a thermometer, stick the end of a wood spoon into the oil; it should sizzle around it. (See notes for another good article on frying foods).
  3. Fry the calamari – Drop the battered and breaded pieces in a few at a time. Turn with tongs to brown all sides. Retrieve with a spider or slotted spoon. Calamari, shrimp, and tofu will all cook very rapidly. As soon as the breading is browned, the food should be done. Drain thoroughly on paper towels. Don’t forget to season ASAP!

The key to frying healthfully is to make sure your oil is really hot, but not past the smoke point. The smoke point varies with different types of oils/fats, and is the point at which the oil begins to break down and burn. Keep in mind that as you add food to the oil, the temperature drops. Refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 450 degrees. See Smoke Point of Cooking Oils for more…

Do I have to use rice flour? No. We love the texture of the rice flour/coconut combination, and it is gluten free. Other flours should work fine.

Can I use other proteins? YES! I have done this with shrimp and tofu as well. It is important to use extra firm tofu, and press the moisture out of it prior to frying.

I drop a few pieces in at a time. This serves 2 purposes: 1. The temperature stays more consistent, and 2. The oil reaches more of the food and results in more delicious crunchiness! Do NOT overcrowd the pan. I use a spider to retrieve the cooked pieces from the pan, and drain them well on paper towels. Season it immediately! 🙂 For more on healthy frying, see 4 Steps to Healthy Frying

What can I serve with these Crunchy Coconut Calamari (Shrimp or Tofu)? As I mention above, these pair perfectly with my Thai-Style Roasted Vegetable Soup. Okra and Eggplant Curry is another nice option.

Something I learned as a very young cook trying to feed my new husband the healthiest meals we could afford, is that including a variety of colors and textures on your plate probably indicates a well-balanced and healthy meal. Fried food can be a bit “beige.”

I always include a brightly-colored side dish or two, be it a stir-fry, a salad, roasted veggies, etc. Of course chopped herbs visually brighten the dish, and given that this dish has an Eastern flair, chopped cilantro is my herb of choice.

I think you’ll find that taking a moment to consider the visual appeal of your food pays off in the long run. Is this something you consider when planning meals? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The photo below is the Crunchy Coconut Calamari atop my Thai-Style Roasted Vegetable Soup posted earlier this week. Does this not look delicious?

Thai Roasted Vegetable Soup atop Thai-Style Roasted Vegetable Soup in a bronze bowl.
Old December 2015 photo…
Yield: 4 servings

Crunchy Coconut Calamari (Shrimp or Tofu)

Crunchy Coconut Calamari (Shrimp or Tofu)

Calamari is dunked in buttermilk and rice flour, then coated with panko and shredded coconut for a crunchy protein addition to my Thai Roasted Vegetable Soup. This flexible recipe can be used successfully on tofu for a delicious and crunchy vegetarian option!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound calamari rings, patted dry
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup rice flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups panko
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • refined coconut oil (for frying)*
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • sea salt

Instructions

  1. In a medium prep bowl, whisk together buttermilk and rice flour.
  2. In another medium prep bowl, combine salt, coconut, panko, and cayenne if using.
  3. Combine oils in a skillet or saute pan to about 1/4-1/2" deep. Bring oil temperature to between 350 and 375. If you don't have a thermometer, stick the end of a wood spoon into the oil; it should sizzle around it. (See notes for another good article on frying foods).
  4. Drop the battered and breaded pieces in a few at a time. Turn with tongs to brown all sides. Retrieve with a spider or slotted spoon. Calamari, shrimp, and tofu will all cook very rapidly. As soon as the breading is browned, the food should be done.
  5. Drain thoroughly on paper towels. Don't forget to season!

Notes

More on shallow frying see Tips on Shallow Frying.

You can substitute wheat flour for the rice flour.

Unrefined coconut oil has a lower smoke point, and does not work well for frying. Canola or vegetable oil are good substitutes, but I love the smell and taste of the coconut oil...

Don't forget to season as soon as the fried food it out of the oil!

I've not included macro nutrients on this recipe due to the variability of the frying process. If you fry at high temperatures, and drain the food well, it absorbs very little of the oil 🙂

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 358Total Fat: 24gCarbohydrates: 24gProtein: 12g

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4 Comments

  1. I was nodding my way through the post Tamara.. Love calamari! And yup to occasional guilt free frying too ..its holiday season after all. Dieting can wait till 2016. Brilliant is how you used coconut! I guess i will try these with shrimps soon 🙂

    1. Thanks Swayam! For many years, I completely avoided any fried foods. I think one key to eating healthfully and staying thin for a lifetime is to not deprive yourself of things you love, and enjoy them occasionally! I’m 56, and so far it’s worked 😉