Thursday, 18 October 2012

Chingri malai curry or Bengali-style prawns with coconut

I don't cook masses of Bengali food, but with the traditional festival of Durga Puja looming, I thought I'd dig out this classic. Chingri malai curry (or indeed malaikari), is a very simple dish combining prawns, whole spices and the rather un-typical Bengali ingredient of coconut milk. Some reading tells me that the word 'malai' probably derives from Malay, and this explains the use of coconut milk too. Like many Indian recipes, there are lots of versions of this around, so this is my one.

Recipe (enough for two as a main dish):
Around 250g raw prawns (shell off, and de-veined)
1 small red onion
1 fat clove of garlic
A thumb-sized piece of ginger
1 tsp turmeric
4-5 green cardamon pods, split
1 large, dried bay leaf
1-2 pieces of cinnamon or cassia bark
1-2 green, Indian finger chillis, pierced a few times
1 tsp ground coriander
2-3 tblsp sunflower oil
Around 100g coconut cream
Around 100ml hot water
1-2 tsp salt for seasoning

Mix the prawns with the turmeric and a teaspoon of salt, and put in the fridge for an hour or so. If you're not going to cook the prawns until much later, leave out the salt. While the prawns are busy turning yellow, make a paste from the onions, garlic and ginger. It's definitely easiest to do this in a food processor, but a pestle and mortar would do the job too. Take the prawns out of the fridge 10 minutes or so before you want to start cooking, and add the salt (if you haven't earlier).
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan, and when it's hot (but not smoking) add the prawns. Cook for a couple of minutes, until they are lightly coloured but not fully cooked through. Take the prawns out of the pan, add another tablespoon of oil (if needed) and add all the whole spices. Turn the heat down, so that they are just gently sizzling. After a couple of minutes put the ground coriander, chillies and onion paste in. As they soften, add the water to the coconut cream to create coconut milk which is the thickness of single cream. You may need to adjust the amount of water or coconut cream to achieve this. When the spices and paste have cooked for a good 10 minutes or so, put the coconut in and simmer for around 5 minutes to create a sauce. Put the prawns back in, add a little salt, and simmer again for 5 minutes until the prawns are fully cooked.

You should have a rich, thick coconut gravy which is subtly spiced and still tender prawns. Serve with plain, boiled rice, and let out a small sigh of satisfaction once you've finished eating.

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