Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mr. Prawn's salmon-pink mustachios ... DAY 6

Now that it's the dead of winter, I can't help but reminisce of the summers spent in India. They brought with them long visits to my maternal grandparents home, evenings spent with my aunt's, eating roasted peanuts from our favorite Bhaiya down-the-street; cricket with my uncles in the hallway between the balcony and living room; afternoons spent with my grandfather and his tales of King Cobras and tigers in the jungles of Matheran; and bushels of silvery Pomfret, fresh crab, delicate creek fish and my absolute favorite – the mustachioed, salmon-pink Mr. Prawn.

Baba Ajo, as I called my grandfather, hand-picked him from the fish market, every weekend. It was a custom at my grandparents – Ajo would wake up earlier than usual, dress up in a crisply ironed, cream-colored shirt, paired with his favorite tan-colored pants, and set off with his cloth bag, apropos the very color of fish curry.

As for me, I would wait.

By their fourth-floor window ledge overlooking the street, biding my time. As soon, as I saw my grandfather's familiar salt-and-pepper head emerge around the curve, I would run and open the main door. No sooner would he walk up the stairs, the tangerine bag would be whisked, and I would soon be chased around the house by my grandmother, Nanima, a very pale prawn hung on, meanwhile, by his whiskers in my hand.

We followed this tradition absolutely unfailingly. Every single summer holiday.

Finally, my grandmother would pretend to give up and I would be tricked into handing him over. Usually, Ajo got the delicately flavored Pomfret, pre-cut by the fish-monger into medium steaks. At other times there would be the meaty king fish, some cartilaginous Bombay-duck and the hearty Bangda, or Mackerel for company. Nanima, would then systematically divide the fish steaks for shallow frying, and steaming. The less-interesting bits, like the head and tail, would be reserved for curry or saar. She would then call her daughter's for shelling Mr. Prawn.

That was my least favorite part. To see him being skinned off his clothes, armor and whiskers.

He looked so much happier and handsom-er hanging by his thin, long bristles.

Amidst, gossiping women sitting on the kitchen floor, and chuckles of laughter, he would be disrobed, his tracts cleaned of lurking dark veins, then massaged in grainy salt, summery and fiery spices, a touch of green cilantro paste, coated with fine rice flour, and fried crisp to a beautiful titian with the rest of the sea-fish.

Soon after, we would all sit down to a very elaborate Sunday meal. I would always sit between Baba Ajo and my father, the others crammed around the corners of the modular table. My grandfather would cut the fried fish into little pieces, the bombay duck especially, with its tiny bones; while Dad would scoop them in between morsels of chappatis and feed me. Those lunches, were seriously sublime, and over before one could say holy mackerel! Then, I would curl-up on the skinny couch, or one of the armchairs in the living room. And, day-dream of my next sojourn with the salmon-pink mustachioed Mr. Prawn.

A little bit of this, a tad of that!

After getting married, I realized my in-laws preparation of sea-food was slightly different from how we made it at home. Here, the flavors were heavily influenced by Malwani food, and made use of coriander seeds, and coconut milk, which we did not. So, when I started preparing curries and fried fish at home in the US, it took me awhile to tweak and figure out the best of both worlds.

The following recipe for prawn curry is just that.

I am sending it over, on Day 6, to Nupur's wonderful marathon at One Hot Stove. I am already feeling sad, that it will be over soon. On the other hand, I am truly grateful to her for hosting this fabulous event, where I got to meet, and interact with so many wonderful fellow foodies -- their hearts, and blog-spots ever so warm, always open, and willing with their insightful posts, out-of-the-box recipes, and delicious home-cooked meals.

Cheers, everyone! To old friends and new, here's wishing we keep bumping into each other oftener than often; sharing a quick recipe, or two, between wassup! and how-do-you-do's. May the coming year bring to you and yours, happiness, and all that you desire

Prawn curry

You need:

1 cup of prawns
1 large tomato, finely chopped
4-5 kokum
1/2 tsp turmeric
4-6 tsp chili powder
2 garlic flakes, bruised and lightly smashed
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp oil
Coconut milk (from one coconut / one can of Thai coconut milk)

For masala:

2-4 tbsp coconut, grated
5-6 garlic flakes
1 tsp coriander seeds
4-5 peppercorn
2-3 coriander sprigs
1/4 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp chili powder


Shell and de-vein the crustaceans, liberally sprinkle a few tablespoons of salt over the prawns, gently toss around to coat well, and set aside in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blitz together all the ingredients in the masala list, to a fine paste.

Under a thin, steady stream of water, gently wash the prawns. Sprinkle with turmeric, and a teaspoon of chili powder.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, once it's nice-and-hot, add in the prawns, and saute just until cooked. Remove, and set aside. Add the remaining oil, and quickly add bruised cloves of garlic, one-two kokum, and stir until garlic turns a pale golden.

Stir in the finely chopped tomato, and stir well until it becomes soft. To this, add the ground paste, remaining chili powder, and saute until it releases oil, and comes together in a ball. Add prawns, and a tiny bit of water, to loosen any stuck bits and spices. Mix in the coconut milk, and enough water to get a curry of pouring consistency. Simmer to a gentle boil, stirring continually. Season with salt, and plunk in four-five kokum. Simmer for about five-seven minutes, taste for salt, and remove from heat. Serve over hot, steamed rice, with a side of fried fish, or prawns, and some raw onion.


Ashwini said...

Ahhh, felt nostalgic after reading your post. Took me on a heart-warming trip to a fish market in Goa.
I like the serving dish, looks so earthy and warm. What is it called?
Nice click Sheetal!

Sheetal Kiran said...

Hey Ashwini ... the serving dish is just something I chanced upon at an outlet mall ... I think it's meant for chicken-pot-pies. If you like I could always check the mall and see if they still have it, and deliver. Hope that was helpful :D Let me know!

Madhu said...

me too like the serving bowl.. Can't belive the week went by so fast. C u tomorrow.

ruchikacooks said...

add me to the admirers of the serving dish..the title is "catchy"..mustachios :)

indosungod said...

I so like the looks of it. It reminds me of panang shrimp curry I tasted a long time ago in a restaurant and can never find anything that even closely resembles it looks wise and taste wise. I am thinking this is it even though that might have been Thai or Malaysian.

notyet100 said...

yummy platter...wish u happy new yr 2010,..:-)

sra said...

Nice post, and it's ages since I heard the word 'titian' - came across it regularly in Nancy Drews.

Kanchan said...

Prawnss ... Konkan !!! Wow !! all looks divine !!

Anjali said...

Prawns used to be my favorite too when I was truly Koli. Such sweet memories of grandfathers na?

Manasi said...

I'm cracking up at the visual of a small Sheetal running around with the prawn...I don't eat them prawns though..or shrimp or anything that had whiskers or stuff. I'll tell you another theory about why I don't eat these things when you are online. But I'm guessing some fried fish would be lovely in this curry?

Sheetal Kiran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheetal Kiran said...

Madhu, Ruchika: Thanks, you guys :D can check the outlet mall for you both too, if you'd like!

Indo: The colors of this curry are definitely very Thai and Malaysian ... but I think you will get a little whiff of Malwan when it comes to the taste ... hope it turns out more than your expectations :D

Notyet100: Wish you a very, very Happy New Year too!

Sra: LOL .. where do you think I picked it up from ;)

Kanchan: Thanks!! I always eat more than needed when there's fish curry :D

Anjali: Truly, the most memorable and most unforgettable moments have been spent with my Ajoba's!

Manasi: My grandmother never found it funny, funnily enough :D Yes, yes you can certainly substitute fish ... if it's pomfret, then absolute heaven!!

Radhika said...

Great write up and lovely recipe! Wish you a very Happy New Year! I am glad I found your blog through the recipe Marathon!

Sayantani said...

lovely read as usual. the presentation is so neat and classy. love the dish. i just started eating fish and right now can only eat prawns. this one's bookmarked.

Vinaya said...

Love the write-up sheetal. the ajo-nanima part, the disrobing-the-prawn part..really really liked it! isnt it amazing how food can help build relationships?

My hubby is Malwani and a prawns-lover too..i have bookmarked this recipe to try out soon!

Lovely photo of the curry :)

Anita said...

All caught up now!
Happy New year, Sheetal!
I would love to make this prawn curry but I have to learn to pick and clean prawns first. :( Serves me right for living far away from the coast.

Sheetal Kiran said...

Radhika: I am so glad to have found you too! Wish you a lovely 2010 ahead!

Sayantani: Thanks so much ... I hope it turns out well, when you try it!

Vinaya: :D I like that bit a lot too, since it's almost like a photograph in my mind. I hope you both like it much as we do!

Anita: Wish you a very, very Happy New Year too, my dear! I think I should post a prawn cleaning picture tutorial ... as done by hubby. I am not too good at cleaning them prawns either :D

Sheetal Kiran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alphonsa Mary said...


Can i use tamarind instead of kokum...does it change the taste of the curry??

Sheetal Kiran said...

Alphonsa Mary: No, tamarind should not substituted for kokum as it will add a sweeter taste to the curry whereas kokum gives it a more tart taste. You could substitute raw mango slices (peeled) instead of kokum.
Hope that was helpful!

Alphonsa Mary said...

hey thanks for the info sheetal...the pic looks so mouthwatering so thought of trying it...will try this weekend...

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