Head-On Coconut Shrimp


This is an extremely quick-cooking variant on coconut shrimp that utilizes not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 (yes four! Suck it, LeBron!) forms of coconut. “Four forms of coconut!?” you ask. Yup, four:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Coconut Flakes
  • Coconut Vinegar
  • Coconut Milk

And although there’s plenty of coconuttiness going on in this recipe, I like to use head-on shrimp for the simple fact that there’s plenty of rich shrimp flavor stuck inside those teeny crustacean heads.

To start, I toast some unsweetened coconut flakes in a dry, hot Kawali (that’s a wok, for you non-Pinoys). When browning coconut flakes in a hot wok, be watchful, the flakes brown very quickly—like, less than 30 seconds. After the flakes have picked up a nice golden brown color, they are immediately transferred to a bowl. Then, some coconut oil is added to the wok, some ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes are thrown in, then in comes the shrimp with some coconut milk, a splash of coconut vinegar and kalamansi juice, as well as some fish sauce and brown sugar.

As the shrimp cook, some of the tasty shrimp juices leach from the heads and enrich the sauce that slowly becomes a rich, coconut glaze. From start to finish, this dish can be done in less than 5 minutes—I told you it was quick cooking.

Oh, and don’t forget about that toasted coconut—sprinkle it over the cooked shrimp right before serving. The finished dish is slightly sweet, yet brightened with the citrus and vinegar, and full of shrimp and coconut flavor—perfect as a snack accompanied by a cold beer. In addition, your kitchen will smell of coconuts when preparing this dish. And when eating the shrimp, do be sure to suck on those shrimp heads.

Head-On Coconut Shrimp

Serves 2 as an appetizer

1/4 cup coconut milk (preferably Chaokoh brand)
1 tablespoon coconut vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh kalamansi juice, or regular lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound medium, head-on shrimp, peeled and deveined with heads left on (see How-to below)

Combine the coconut milk, coconut vinegar, kalamansi juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set the coconut milk mixture aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When the wok begins to smoke, add the coconut flakes and immediately shake the pan and stir the coconut flakes to ensure the flakes brown evenly. The flakes will brown very quickly (about 30 seconds), so be very careful not to burn them. Immediately transfer the browned flakes to another small bowl and set aside.

Using a paper towel, wipe out the wok to ensure no flakes are left behind to burn. Return the wok over high heat. When the wok begins to smoke, add the coconut oil and swirl the wok to coat. Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes and stir-fry until the garlic just begins to brown, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp to the pan and gently toss to coat in the oil and aromatics. Swirl in the coconut milk mixture, and continue to cook until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through, and the liquid reduces to a glaze. Transfer the shrimp to a serving platter and sprinkle with the reserved toasted coconut flakes. Serve immediately, with beer if that’s how you roll.

How to Peel and Devein Shrimp While Leaving the Heads Attached

Head-on, Shell-on Shrimp

We’re two shrimps, shrimping.

Honestly, you could make the above dish without peeling the shrimp, but I like to peel because it makes the shrimp easier to eat. I also like to leave the heads on the shrimp because there is so much shrimp flavor in the shrimp heads that leach out into the coconut sauce. Plus, I like to rip off the shrimp heads and slurp out the goodness once the dish is done, man.

Step 1:


Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim off any long whiskers.

Step 2:


Insert the shears into the shrimp’s back, right behind the head shell, then cut all the way down the shrimp’s back.

Step 3:


Gently peel off the body shell from the shrimp, while leaving the head intact. Don’t throw those shrimp shells away, you can freeze them and use them for stock down the road.

Step 4:


Remove the vein from the shrimp–you can do this by placing the shrimp under cold running water and rinse the veins out.

Voila, peeled and deveined shrimp with their heads left on:



  • Crazy Chef March 10, 2013, 1:08 pm

    Don’t throw the shrimp shells away! They make a killer stock.

  • Fern March 14, 2013, 6:28 am

    Make it 5 types of coconut by sprinkling a tiny dash of low-glycemic coconut sap sugar on top of the flakes.

  • Terry March 16, 2013, 10:40 pm

    I love head-on shrimp, and this recipe looks fantastic! Not a regular, run-of-the-mill coconut shrimp recipe.

  • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats April 19, 2013, 1:45 pm

    Did not know coconut vinegar even existed, thats so cool. Being a lover of all things coconut I want to find it!


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