Mrs. B gets hysterical every time the fisherwoman passes by. “I’m coming!” she’ll yell five storeys below and dishes are instantly abandoned in the sink, the mop is strategically dropped mid-path for someone to trip over, and in a minute, she’s out the door, ringing desperately for the elevator. A few minutes later, she’s back beaming, ready to show off her bargain for the day. Her otherwise tired, complaining eye slight up in a way that gets me worried. She often does the fish shopping for me as well (I’m usually inappropriately clad to trapeze down at minute’s notice).

The other day, she got me these prawns. It was just before lunch, and she was nice enough to clean them for me. (She’s like that—she’ll forget to string the beans I wrote about on the whiteboard on the fridge right at her eye level, but she’ll clean unscheduled prawns with a mother’s love. Hate her, love her, can’t do without her.) By which, I mean that she shelled and deveined them. I like to keep a little bit of the shell on. The tail, specifically. I love the coral orange it turns to when cooked, not to mention that lovely flavour it imparts. But before I could dash to the kitchen and tell her to keep them on, she was done—she works at record speed when it comes to seafood. She even took the liberty of marinating them in salt and turmeric. (What if I had wanted to make a Chinese-style stir fry?) She takes all the decisions when it comes to seafood, that woman.


So, it had to be an Indian prawn curry. It helped that the apartment building we live in had just harvested a bunch of fresh coconuts, and we had each received two of the plumpest. Luckily, Mrs. B had grated one of them minutes before the fisherwoman called. Two and two put together, I got a Benagli style Chingri malai curry. What to do–Mrs. B. made me make it!

Bengali-style Chingri Malai Curry (Prawn curry in coconut sauce)
(This is roughly Rinki Bhattacharya’s recipe from her book, Bengal Spices)


Ingredients:

  • ½ kg fresh prawns
  • Coconut milk extracted from 1 medium sized fresh coconut (about 200 mls.)
  • 2-3 green chilies, slit lengthways
  • ½ inch fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. red chilli powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • An inch-long piece of cinnamon
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 4-5 black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp. ghee
  • Salt and sugar to taste

Method:

  1. Shell and devein the prawns. If you don’t have a Mrs. B or have one you have greater control over, keep the tails on. They’ll look pretty and you’ll get a more flavorsome curry.
  2. Rub the prawns with a little salt and turmeric and keep aside until you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. To make the coconut milk, place the grated coconut in a blender and pour over some recently boiled water. Blend to a smooth paste. Strain through fine muslin.
  4. Mix the red chilli powder and turmeric with about a tablespoon of water in a small bowl.
  5. Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Throw in the whole spices and wait for a minute till they get fragrant.
  6. Then, add the onion and fry till it gets translucent. Add the turmeric and red chilli paste and fry until the fat begins to separate. Keep adding tablespoonfuls of water every few minutes until you get a very aromatic, smooth paste.
  7. Throw in the prawns and cook for a minute. Pour over the coconut milk and adjust seasoning.
  8. Bring to a gentle boil and let simmer until the prawns are done. Throw in the slit green chillies and turn off the heat.
  9. Ladle onto freshly steamed rice.