Undoubtedly, Chingri Macher Malai Curry or Chingri Malai Curry is among one of my favourite Bengali dishes. A curry cooked with Chingri Mach (a common Bengali term used for lobsters, prawns or shrimps) is generally a part of the Bengali menu, especially on occasions such as the Noboborsho or Poila Boisakh (Bengali New Year). Be it jumbo prawns or small shrimps, Bengalis love to include them in their cooking in myriad ways. There are traditional dishes where shrimps are cooked with bottle gourd (lau chingri) or cabbage (badhakopir ghonto chingri mach diye). Sometimes these are steamed with mustard paste in a banana leaf parcel (chingri paturi), whereas sometimes these are cooked with chopped banana flowers (mocha chingri) or cooked in an awesome chutney base (chingri macher chatni)!
So we Bengalis, who are one of the hardcore fish-eating communities in India, love gorging on chingri, among others. Since today was the Bengali New Year or the Noboborsho, I thought it was the perfect time to make this authentic lobster curry with coconut. The Chingri Macher Malai Curry is one of the Bengali regal dishes, just fit for those special days when you feel like eating like a King, and surprisingly, without going overboard on spices!
A bit about the history of the Chingri Macher Malai Curry. Some people believe that this dish has a Malaysian influence and the early version of the recipe might have been bought by Malaysian sailors to the Bay of Bengal, many years ago. The word “Malai” is actually “Malay”, meaning Malaysian. The use of coconut paste or milk in curries across Asia is one common thread among the cuisines. Interestingly, Malai in Hindi means “milk cream”, but the dish doesn’t use milk cream. So, it is apparent that Malai is the distorted way of saying “Malay”. But, this is just one school of thought.
Now, there is no single recipe for the perfect Malai curry. Different Bengali families use slightly (and sometimes, hugely) different recipes. Some add cashewnut paste, garam masala powder and/or tomatoes in this, but I don’t. Some may not like to add a little mustard paste, raisin paste and ghee, but I do. Some add coconut milk, but I prefer freshly scraped coconut paste. These are certain factors which make one Malai curry taste quite different than the other, but at the end of the day, the best Malai curry is the one which is rich, creamy and doesn’t taste too spicy, and only then will the flavor of the shrimp or prawn be at its epitome!
This Bengali (Indian) dish tastes majestic with jumbo prawns or lobsters, with heads intact, but you can replace with any kind of shrimp for a regular curry. Mustard oil is the recommended oil, as it adds great flavor to this dish, but if you don’t find this oil, replace with any good oil with high smoking point. The black-mustard-seed paste used in this recipe is ground with a pinch of salt and half a green chilli to remove bitterness. The black skins are then removed by passing the paste through a fine wire mesh or muslin cloth. The yellow paste is used for this recipe.
Chingri Macher Malai Curry (Bengali Prawn Curry with Coconut)
- Jumbo prawns or lobsters, with the skin over the heads and tails being intact (deveined): 4 (medium-sized)
Freshly scraped coconut paste: ¾ cup
- Turmeric powder (for marination): ¾ tsp
- Salt (for marination): ¾ tsp
- Mustard oil: ½ cup
- Onion (very finely chopped): 1 cup
- Ginger paste: ¾ tsp
- Freshly made black-mustard-seed paste: 1.5 tsp
- Whole dried bay leaf: 1 (big)
- Whole cinnamon (cassia bark): 1 (one-inch stick)
- Whole green cardamoms: 4
- Raisin paste: 1 tsp
- Cumin seeds: ¼ tsp
- Red chilli powder: ½ tsp
- Cumin powder: ¾ tsp
- Turmeric powder (for the curry): ½ tsp
- Salt (for the curry): ¾ tsp (or according to taste)
- Granulated sugar: ¼ tsp
- Ghee(Indian clarified butter): 1 tsp
- Green chillies: 4
- Water: 1 cup
Marinate the lobsters (or jumbo prawns) for atleast 15 min, with turmeric powder and salt.
Heat oil in a kadai or a pan. When it starts smoking, reduce the flame to medium and introduce the lobsters carefully and close the lid immediately to prevent sputtering. After 1 min, turn the lobsters and fry the other side for another minute. Remove the lobsters from the oil.
In the same hot oil, add the bay leaf, whole cinnamon (cassia bark), green cardamoms and wait for a few seconds. Add the cumin seeds and let these seeds turn light brown. Add the chopped onion and half the salt (for the curry). Sauté for 7 min, or until the onion looks golden-brown and soft.
Add the turmeric and the cumin powders, combined with 4 tbsp water. Sauté continuouslyto prevent burning of the powders. Add the ginger paste and sauté again, sprinkling a little water if the onion mixture starts sticking to the pan. After 5 min, add the rest of the salt, sugar, red chilli powder, black-mustard-seed paste, raisin paste and coconut paste and sauté till the mixture starts separating from the oil.
At this stage, add the fried lobsters and sauté for 5 min at a simmered flame. Add whole green chillies and ¾ cup of water. Let the curry boil for 10 min, simmered and covered. Before serving, add the ghee to the curry.