This post was first published in 2010 and now re-published with fresh and new content and new pictures.
Bengali Chingri Macher Malai Curry / Prawn Malai Curry
Chingri macher malai curry or prawn malai curry is an iconic dish from Bengali cuisine. This evergreen and immensely popular prawn curry is undoubtedly the star of all occasions, small or big without which no Bengali feast is considered complete.
To me chingri / prawn is just pure love. And when this beautiful crustacean is cleaned, de veined and simmered in sweet coconut milk which is flavoured with range of aromatic spices, it spells heaven in each and every bite.
In my home, this famous Bengali prawn curry is reserved only for special occasions. A good chingri malai curry needs love, patience and devotion to make it right.
In winter however, my favourite would always be this – Bengali cauliflower and prawn curry.
What Is Malai In Chingri /Prawn Malai Curry?
The word “malai” does not represent malai or cream here. Nor the texture of chingri malai curry is creamy here.
According to one school of thought the word “malai” has its roots in the word “Malay”. meaning the Malay curries (or curries of Malay people who had migrated to ancient Srilanka, because Srilanka shared a common lineage with Banga kingdoms of Bengal, Odisha region).
Centuries back, Bengal has extensive maritime trade network with South Asian countries, which facilitates cultural and culinary exchanges, among many other things. Srilanka (Ceylone) was one such island which thrived on trades from eastern part of India and Sinhalese origins can be traced back to Bengal. In all possibilities, chingri malaikari / prawn malaikari could be the result of such cultural exchanges. A similar Srilankan prawn curry with coconut milk also in existence today.
Bursting Myths About Bengali Cuisine
But at the same time it would be utterly non-nonsensical to assume that “Chingri malai curry” does not belong to Bengal as remarked by a reputed Indian food critique. Citing the reasons that coconut is not extensively used in Bengali kitchens . This kind of myopic vision and thought process stems from the fact that how little we are well versed with our own cultural identity.
Coconut and coconut milk, both are extensively used in Bengali kitchen, especially in those families, whose ancestry hails from East Bengal. What posto is for ghoti (West Bengal natives), coconut is for bangal (East Bengal).
So prawns cooked in coconut milk or hilsa cooked in coconut milk , a typical Mymensingh fish preparation is quite common in many bangal household. But the true essence of bangal culinary heritage is somewhat lost due to the ethnic cleansing and migration of East Bengal people owing to partition, political unrest and so on.
And to compare this seemingly lost East Bengal culinary heritage with present day Bangladeshi cuisine would be totally unfair.
If you love prawns cooked in coconut milk, then you might also like this famous Thai Red Curry With Prawns And Mangoes.
How To Make Chingri Malai Curry?
Golda chingri also known in English as scampi is suited best for making chingri malai curry. Juicy and succulent, golda chingri brings a unique taste to malai curry. However, you can make malai curry with other types of prawns as well but you will definitely feel the difference.
Head and tail of prawns or scampi is more attractive, juicy and appetizing, so I do not remove them. However the shell from the middle part need to be removed. Also, if you are keeping the head intact, you have to wash it thoroughly under running water, as this part contains more dirt, grit, sand etc. De-veining is another important part of cleaning the prawns.
Blending the spices well in this recipe is key to get the rich and creamy look of this malai curry. I add scraped coconut as well as coconut milk both in malai curry and it taste super delicious.
You can make malai curries with lobster as well. The old picture in this post is of lobster.
Bengali Prawn (Chingri)Malai Curry
- 500 gm Jumbo Prawns / Scampi / Lobster (4 piece)
- 1 Onion (medium), chopped
- 1 inch Ginger
- 5-6 cloves Garlic
- 1 cup Scraped Coconut
- 2-3 Green chillies
- 1 tsp Black Peppercorns
- 1 inch Cinnamon
- 1 Black Cardamom
- 4-5 Cloves
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 tsp Cumin powder
- 1 tsp Red chilli powder
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- ½ tsp Bengali Garam Masala
- 200 ml Coconut Milk
- 2 tbsp Mustard oil
- Salt and Sugar to taste
- 1 tbsp Butter (optional) melted
- Wash the lobster or prawns, de-vein it, de shell it. If You want to keep head and tail, shell accordingly. Wash the head under running water to get rid of the dirt.If using lobster, break the claws into long pieces. Smear the prawns or lobster it with salt and turmeric and leave for a while.
- In the meantime, dry roast the black peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and garlic on a tawa or griddle, till they leaves an aroma. Crush them finely in a mortar and pestle.
- To the scraped coconut add the green chillies, chopped onions, ginger and the freshly ground spice mix and blend them together in mixer to smooth paste. If requires add very little water during blending.
- Heat the mustard oil in a pan to its smoking point and saute the lobster each side for a minute.For prawns or scampi, saute them for 20 sec on each side.
- Remove the prawns from the pan and to the same oil add the bay leaves, cinnamon and the prepared masala paste.
- Add the turmeric powder, cumin powder and red chilli powder, salt and sugar around 1 tsp.Fry on medium heat till the oil separates out. This will take around 10 min.This is an important step.
- Divide the coconut milk into halves. To one half, dilute the coconut milk with water.Add the diluted coconut milk, simmer the curry on low heat for few minutes.
- Gently place the lobster or prawns in the curry. Cover and cook for few more minutes.For lobster, depending upon the size it will take around 5-8 minutes. Check after 5 minutes for doneness. If requires, cook for 1 -2 min more.For prawns, it will get cook with in 2-3 minutes depending upon the size. Check after 2 min and if requires cook for 1 min more.
- Check the seasonings, stir in the concentrated coconut milk and add a dollops of butter before serving.
- Serve chingri malai curry with steamed rice or bengali pulao.
Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Chingri Malai Curry
1.Use the best quality scampi or jumbo prawns for the recipe. Prawns should be fresh. Seafood taste best when it is fresh and not frozen for days.
2.Blending the ingredients well and monitoring each and every step with rapt attention is important. With in minute it can get burnt as onions and coconuts are too fragile to handle. They get browned super fast. So be watchful about that.
3.The most important one – fry the prawns for the precise time mentioned. Not a minute more, not a minute less. Under cooked prawns will ruin your dining experiences so as the over cooked prawns with its rubbery chewy texture.
What To Serve With Bengali Chingri (Prawn) Malai Curry?
I prefer chingri malai curry with plain steamed rice. However, on special ocassions you can serve chingri malai curry with Bengali Pulao.