Make Your Authentic Bengali Prawn (Chingri Maachher) Malai Curry
A simple recipe for the Bengalee delicacy — prawn curry in coconut gravy (WARNING: Not for the fainthearted though)
“Chingri Maachher Malai Curry” – whisper these four words into the ears of a Bengalee (PranabDa, for instance) and see how they react – some will give you the best Bong smile ever, some would become thoughtful and nostalgic, but some might go into a depression mode if they start missing home and food cooked by their mothers.
Prawn Malai Curry or Chingri Maacher Malai Curry, as it is known in Bangla is one of the greatest delicacies in West Bengal, as opposed to Steamed Hilsa (Ilish Bhanpa) or Chital Maacher Muitha, that any East Bengalee would swear by. We will learn to make both Ilish Bhanpa as well as Chital Maacher Muitha some other day, but today lets learn how to win over any character from West Bengal by serving them Chingri Maachher Malai Curry.
If you walk into a regular fish market you will find a large variety of different kinds of prawns – scampi (galda chingri), tiger prawns (bagda chingri), shrimps (kucho chingri), and some others. But for the most authentic chingri preparation, it is advisable to stick to tiger prawns which are usually available between Rs400 to Rs 700 a kilo in India.
Cleaning the prawns
This is perhaps the trickiest bit if you are not used to handling chingris. Remove the outer shell carefully, taking care not to remove the legs (the munchiest bit, after the head). Then remove the helmet along with the spike, once again without severing the head from the body. There is usually some yellowish stuff in the head which could be the brain and is taken out. I advise you to do the same, but do not ask me why – certain things are not questioned!
But if you are born lucky, you might find a dada, or didi or boudi or mashi right at the fish stall to do this for you either free of cost or for 10 bucks. However, do make sure that the head is not removed along with the helmet.
Anyway, once the cleaning is done wash the prawns thoroughly, and sprinkle a bit of salt and turmeric, and let them be for a while.
Light fry the prawns, till they are light brown. Remember, you are not a fish fry seller outside a liquor joint in Patiala – Bongs prefer their fish light-fried when they are making a curry.*
Chop some onions, a big one would do if you have about 8-10 prawns to cook. Grate a piece of ginger the size of your thumb, and take a pod of garlic (2 at the most) and grind it, or chop it very fine in case you don’t have a grinder (I didn’t for the longest time).
Light fry the onions on a medium flame – I suggest mustard oil, as fish cooked in any other oil would send any true Bong into severe fits of melancholy. Once the onions are sautéed, add the grated ginger and the chopped/ground garlic. Add turmeric, some salt and a tiny amount of red chilli powder. Stir this as it cooks on a medium flame for about 10 minutes and till it turns into a thick paste.
Now add the prawns and lower the flame further – make sure the prawns are sitting right in the middle of the paste, covered on all sides. After another 10 minutes add a few spoons of milk of coconut, in case grated coconut is not easily available. However, please do note that this preparation is supposed to be somewhat pasty (”Its tasty, if its pasty,” says the Masterchef), so too much milk of coconut would ruin the consistency.
Now grind a tablespoon of raisins and add it to the curry, and make sure you mix it well. Add salt to taste, and take the container off the flame. Slice a few green chillies, and place them on your curry somewhat aesthetically – this adds to the colour as well as the spiciness.
Get hold of the first Bengalee you come across, and serve him the Chingri Maachher Malai Curry with plain white steamed rice. Note down his facial expressions and mail the same to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I will let you know how your curry had turned out.
*Note: Bongs have referred to prawns as maach (pheees) for the past 1100 years – no point trying to change it now.
Additional note: According to Bongs whales are also fish (timi maach) and wolves and hyenas are tigers (nekrey baagh and hyena baagh), but thankfully they don’t cook any of these.