Nothing can come between food and Bengalis, no not even the sweltering Indian summer. We will eat light juicy vegetable based curries for days to keep our system cool but once there is a hint of any festivities we will jump on the opportunity to make a luxurious meal for ourselves. Most of them might not come across as summer friendly. This just happened in my family. Ever since I have come here at Maa’s she is feeding us lovely homecooked meals. But now as Jamai sashti is around the corner, her planning knows no boundaries. The real factors like summer, heat, the mercury soaring sky high had all just disappeared from her life. When I requested for some light dishes, she counter attacked by saying we cant treat our son in law with everyday meals and if the heat seems unbearable we will install another a/c in the dining room. Huh! Who can argue with that?
So it’s going to be a lavish fish based Bengali spread on Sunday for their fish loving jamai. I can’t argue but what I can do is to share the recipe for one of Bengal’s most famous prawn dish, Chingri Macher Malaikari, Big prawns in a rich coconut cream based gravy. If you have ever tasted it you would know how delicious this curry is. The velvety gravy is the highlight of this dish, which makes it finger licking good. But before I share the recipe let me warn you this is not your everyday prawn dish, better to reserve this for some special occasions to serve along with some basmati rice and dry curries.
Sometimes back I saw some chef on NDTV telling that this is the only Bengali dish which is cooked in coconut cream. Which is not true. We have an array of dishes where coconut milk and freshly scraped coconut is used but no wonder malaikari enjoys the iconic status in the lot. Apart from its taste the overpriced prawns make it a prized dish in any Bengali spread. There was a time when we had to scrape and extract fresh milk from the coconut. I hated that tedious process but now rich coconut creams are available in tetra packs to fill our lives with more malaikari. Though its another fact that puritans say the packed juices don’t taste as good as the fresh ones. I don’t find much difference and it eases my job so much that I rather would like to ignore such comments.
If you ask a Bengali what classifies a good Chingri macher malaikari the answer would be its rich yet velvety texture of the gravy. It should be spicy but smooth, thick but velvety. We generally prefer to cook this dish with medium big size pieces of prawns as that soaks up the spices well. If you plan to cook with jumbo prawns then ensure to slit or poke the prawns with a fork at several places.
For a good malaikari please see the points under notes.
Chingri Macher Malaikari
Prawns: 500 gms (shelled and deveined)
Onion: 2 medium / 7 tbsp onion paste
Ginger: 2” piece / 2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
Garlic: 4-5 fat cloves
Coconut milk: 1 pack (I used Dabur’s 200 ml pack)
Oil (preferably mustard oil or a mix of mustard and refined oil): 3 tbsp
Whole cardamom: 2
Whole cloves: 3
Cinnamon; 1” piece
Indian bay leaf: 1 big
Garam masala powder: 1/3 tsp
Green chilies: 3-4
Red chili powder: ½ tsp or according to your taste
Turmeric powder (optional)
Wash the prawns and smear it with salt and turmeric (if using). Keep it aside for 10 minutes.
In the mean time peel and make a smooth paste of onion (add little water) preferably in the wet grinder jar of your food processor. Process till its very smooth almost like a thick batter. Repeat the same for ginger and garlic as well
Now take a handful of the onion paste and over a big bowl start squeezing it. The juice and fine pastes will come through your fingers. Use the coarse parts in your hands for other curries. repeat with the rest of the pastes. You should have 5-6 tbsp of smooth watery spice paste. Keep onion paste and ginger garlic paste separate.
Trust me its not a big job but ensures a wonderful texture for the gravy.
Now heat the pan with a tbsp of oil. Fry the prawns for a minute or till they turn pink. take out the prawns along with the oil. Keep aside.
Pour the rest of the oil in the pan and when its hot add lightly crushed cardamom, cinnamon, coves and the whole bay leaf. Once they start to splutter add the onion paste. On low flame fry the spice with little salt for approx. 4-5 minutes or till you see oil start to appear at the sides. Then add the ginger garlic paste and again fry for a couple of minutes till the raw smell is gone.
Now add chili powder and mix. After a minute or so add the coconut cream and same amount of water. I used the empty pack to measure the amount of water. Mix and check the seasoning. Add 2-3 slited green chilies. Let it come to a boil. Depending on the amount of gravy you want cook and thicken it. I cooked for 3-4 minutes.
Now add the fried prawns along with the oil. Mix and cover. Check the seasoning for one more final time and adjust the salt and chili. Cook for 5 minutes. Switch off the flame. Sprinkle the garam masala and cover.let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.
A Homemakers Notes:
The recipe that I shared here is my family recipe, which we more or less follow. I made it this way for this particular post, which I made for some of my guests. While cooking for family for weekend I make a fine paste of the spices and use it the same way.
Adjust the amount of water depending on how much and how thick a gravy you want in the final dish.
Same with chilies add more or less as per your taste.
Many people don’t add turmeric in malaikari. It totally depends on you.
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