Elsewhere in the French Empire…

One would have found this week’s creation, Tahitian Coconut Vanilla Shrimp.  Being paradise, Tahiti offers so much more than warm waves gently caressing sugar-white beaches.  The lush jungle beyond holds an astounding array of fruit and flowers.  Among the latter are vanilla orchids, producing what is justifiably considered to be the world’s best vanilla.

Tahiti’s cuisine is in a happy place, where an extraordinary natural abundance from both land and sea is given a French twist.  Take this week’s entry for example.   Succulent shrimp from the deep blue ocean is bathed in a mixture of coconut milk, the superlative local vanilla, cream and a bit of rum.  The last two are French touches, of course.

The end result is a velvety combination that enrobes the shrimp in a rich, slightly sweet nuttiness.  Not enough to overwhelm the shellfish’s clean taste, but to elevate it.  This leaves just enough sauce for the rice that traditionally accompanies this dish to absorb, lending it a magnificent flavor.  Think of a creamy rice pilaf with a subtle, tantalizing hint of sweetness.

Food.com offered this recipe a while back, and given how uncommon South Seas cuisine has been in these pages, the idea intrigued.  Of course, like the Huli-Huli Chicken featured several months ago, Tahitian Shrimp isn’t purely a Polynesian innovation.  However, the local influence and ingredients are overwhelming and crucial.

This is fusion cuisine in the best sense, a delicious bit of culinary history.  When Louis-Antoine de Bougainville made landfall in Tahiti in the eighteenth century, Tahitian Coconut Vanilla Shrimp is one of the best things that cultural meeting produced.


Tahitian Coconut Vanilla Shrimp

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 ounces dark rum
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise (*1)
  • 6 ounces coconut milk (*2)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the shrimp, stirring constantly until the shrimp turn pink, about three minutes.

Remove shrimp from the pan and set them aside.  Wipe clean the pan with paper towels.

Add the rum and split vanilla bean to the pan.  Bring to a boil until the rum reduces to about two tablespoons.

Stir in the cream and coconut milk and continue cooking until the mixture reduces by about half.

Extract the vanilla bean from the mixture and scrape out the seeds.  Return the seeds to the mixture and discard the now-empty pod.

Season mixture with salt (*3) and freshly-ground pepper.

Return the shrimp to the mixture and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.  Serve over cooked rice. (*4)



1 – As mentioned, Tahitian vanilla is the best and, of course, it fits perfectly with this Tahitian dish.  Any other variety of vanilla still will be good, though.

2 – To prevent this from being too “heavy,” particularly with adding so much cream, you may wish to use “lite” coconut milk.

3 – When cooking seafood dishes I always prefer to use sea salt.

4 – Although the original recipe doesn’t call for it, try dusting the shrimp with a bit of shredded coconut before serving.  It accents the shrimp well and adds a nice texture.


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