Caramelized Lemongrass Shrimp is a simple stir fry but the full rich flavor comes from the interplay of the flavorings and the fats. Specifically, the fat in the shrimp heads and the coconut oil in which they are sauteed. So I don’t want to sound like a cranky old diner waitress here – but to fully appreciate this recipe there should be no substitutions.
Vietnam meets New Orleans!
Like New Orleans style BBQ’d shrimp it’s a messy kitchen table kind of dish. Serve it to people who don’t mind watching you suck heads and if your friends don’t suck, get new friends.
Lightning fast and packed with the traditional salty/sweet/hot Vietnamese flavors this stir fry delivers maximum flavor with minimum time and ingredients. Two things are key. Heads & tails. The heads provide the fat, flavor & color and the tails must not be overcooked.
Coconut Oil and Shrimp Heads
If you don’t have coconut oil you can use olive oil but only if you have a few drops of Coco Lopez or coconut extract to spice it up. If you don’t have shrimp heads don’t bother with making this. I’ve sampled recipes without them and they’re just not as tasty.
Start by beheading the shrimp and depositing them in a bowl. Peel and devein the tails and set them aside.
How to prepare the Lemongrass
You do this by chopping off the hard end (where the line is as shown below) and then start peeling the outer layers off. Anything hard or woody goes. What’s left will be fairly narrow. Think lead in a pencil. The outer peel really means several peels. If you are a lemongrass virgin (which, come to think of it, sounds like a rental you will not find at Redbox) fear not. What you should end up with will be on the softer side. After you cut it up, feel it. Toss anything woody. The usable part is very thin and should be easy to cut, about the size of a cocktail straw.
After you’ve readied all the other ingredients, make the caramel (you can see it bubbling around the edges below) and start adding in those ingredients according to the order listed in the recipe. If, for some reason, you don’t think there’s enough broth or just want to stretch it a little, add a few tablespoons of water.
The other critical procedure is to add the shrimp tails last. By last I mean that after everything is done to your liking, put in the shrimp, stir well, cut the heat off, and cover. The residual heat will cook the shrimp fully while leaving them tender.
Although this cooks fast it can sit at the back of the stove for a while if you need to make it early, and leftovers heat well. You may serve with the traditional rice or the non-traditional toast as shown below.
And don’t be afraid of the whiskers. There’s a lot of good slurping in those heads!
- 1 lb. head on medium shrimp
- 3 tablespoons white sugar
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil
- 4 stalks fresh lemongrass, peeled & minced
- 2 shallots, sliced thinly
- 2 tsps. garlic minced
- 1 tsp. roasted red chili paste
- 2 Thai chilis, sliced open & seeds removed
- 3 tablespoons ginger, peeled & julienned
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- pinch of black pepper
- Peel & devein shrimp, reserve heads.
- Remove outer layer from lemongrass stalks, cut off bottom stem end and mince finely the bottom 4 or 5 inches.
- Caramelize sugar by putting it into the pan over medium heat and swirling it a bit till it's caramel colored, then add the oil.
- Add shallot, garlic, & shrimp heads and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
- Stir in lemongrass, chilis, chili paste & ginger and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Add fish sauce & black pepper & cook for 3 to 5 minutes, covered.
- Add the shrimp, stir well, cover and cut the heat off. The shrimp should be fully done about 5 minutes later.