A close friend of the family insists that I post shrimp in coconut sauce. He is right to insist upon this dish, which is a masterpiece. If you like shrimp, it is a testament to the magnificence of Bengali cooking, and arguably, it is one of the best things one might ever eat. He had a good point too about Bengali food – certain dishes are special, they are unique to locality and country, and yet they are able to transcend borders and boundaries. They make us that much prouder of our cuisine, of our abundance and ingenuity. All cultures have these dishes, as do all families, communities, and restaurants. It’s the signature dish.
Shrimp with Coconut Sauce or
Chingri Macher Malai Curry
I had the opportunity to taste this dish again in India. My aunt, one of my mother’s sisters, made this dish and the shrimp were exquisite. The following recipe is my mother’s version. She and I cooked it together after I returned from India, which is to say that my mother gave directions while I measured and stirred, timed, weighed, and wrote. And yes, it was mouthwateringly divine.
1 lb. raw shrimp, cleaned and deveined, tails removed
2 potatoes, cut into 8 pieces each
½ cup coconut milk
¼ cup fresh or canned diced tomato, skins removed
½ -inch fresh ginger root, grated
¼ cup ground rice melon seeds (chal mogoj) or ¼ cup ground cashews (optional)
1 tbsp onion, minced
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric power
2-3 fresh green chilies, more or less to taste
1 tej leaf
1 green cardamom pod, smashed open
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1- inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
Salt, sugar to taste
The list of ingredients might seem intimidating at first, but the dish is made in stages, which simplifies the process and ensures tender, instead of rubbery, shrimp.
Step One: Shrimp Prep
Marinate the cleaned, deveined shrimp with a touch of salt, turmeric and ½ teaspoon of the ginger root. Set aside and marinate 1 hour in refrigerator. Do not marinate more than 1-2 hours; otherwise, the ginger will alter the texture of the shrimp.
Step Two: Thickener Prep
Optional, only if adding rice melon (chal kumro) seeds or ground cashews as a thickening agent. Rice melon is a type of summer squash, round and large like a softball. The flavor is similar to zucchini. Its seeds are similar to pumpkin seeds, but they are smaller, pale beige, and very mild. Blend the rice melon seeds or cashews with a small amount of water, periodically scraping down the sides. The mixture is used primarily as a thickener and only a small amount is required. Blending ½ cup at at a time is easier than blending ¼ cup. Covered, it will keep well in the fridge for a 3-4 days and will live happily for a month in the freezer. Alternately, a pinch of cornstarch or flour can be used if needed.
Step Three: Potato Prep
Add a little oil to a non-stick saucepan and fry the potatoes with a little salt and turmeric until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside.
Step Four: Sauté shrimp slightly
Sauté shrimp slightly in a little bit of oil, just until pink. About three minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Step Five: Preparing the phoron (oil and seed) mixture
Add 3-4 tbsp oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil for a minute of two and then add the tej leaf, cardamom pod, whole cloves, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick and green chilies. Heat the oil until the spices becomes fragrant (about 2 minutes).
Step Six: Sign, Seal, and Deliver
Add the onion to the heated oil and sauté with a pinch of sugar until caramelized. Add tomatoes next, cook until dissolved into the oil, and then add the coriander, turmeric, and remaining ginger. Next, add potatoes, coconut milk, and blended nut or seed mixture if using. Bring to a boil (about 5 minutes). Turn heat to low and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the shrimp at the very end and cook over low heat for just another 3 minutes, until shrimp are cooked through and all the flavors are incorporated. Done!
Serve with rice.