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Bengali Malai Curry

This is my mother’s signature dish. The one I ask her to make every-time I visit home and she obliges me…first by scouring the fish markets for the largest and freshest of prawns and then whipping up the dish in the kitchen in 30 minutes. The thing I always complained about was not having enough gravy (as that is part I love the most), so here I have tips to ensure there is lots of it! My recipe is a cheat way of making this classic dish… hence close to my moms but I can never match up to hers as it is etched in my memory!

The most important part of the dish is the prawns. Find the largest that you can find and they have to be with the head on. The most time consuming part of the dish is probably the cleaning of the prawns themselves. I use a pair of kitchen scissors and a butter knife. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the cleaning steps but will do so next time I post on prawns.

  • Large prawns head on 12
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 inch ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 8 cloves
  • 3 inch cinnamon stick
  • 6 green cardamom
  • 3 green chilis
  • turmeric powder
  • Chilli powder (kashmiri)
  • Garam masala powder
  • Canned coconut milk (11oz)
  • salt
  • Mustard oil

Cleaning the Prawns

Wash the fish before you start cleaning. Take the prawn and snip off the tip of the head with the eyes and antenna. Using the tip of the scissor pull out the gut. It’s slightly blackish in color and comes out in one piece. Leave the other gooey goodness in there… thats what makes this dish de-lish!

Next take the prawn and hold it in one hand, head towards your body and tail facing away from you. Using the scissor cut off the shell covering the tail. Leave the head intact. I try to cut the shell right in the middle of the back. that will help me clean out the nerve too. There are 2 things on the tail you want to clean out. The nerve and the gut. They are on the midline on the back and the front of the prawn.


  • 1 tablespoon mustard oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder
  • Salt to taste (I generally sprinkle all over the fish spread out)

Sprinkle all the ingredients of the marinade on the cleaned fish and give it a good mix with your hands. The spices will have coated all the fish. Set this aside for 10-15 minutes while you get the onion etc ready.

Gravy base

Take half a medium onion, the ginger and garlic and blend into a paste with some water. You don’t need much of the onion or garlic for this dish. Little goes a long way.

In a pan heat 2 tablespoons mustard oil. Once it starts smoking reduce heat to medium low and take the prawns and saute them one side at a time. This should take no more than 2-3 minutes. The moment they turn pink flip them to the other side. Once both sides are pink take them out of the pan and set aside.

Add 1-2 tablespoons of mustard oil to the pan and once the oil is hot reduce the heat. Coarsely crush the cloves, cinnamon and cardamom using a rolling pin or in a mortar pestle and add to the oil. In a minute you will smell the warmth of the spices.

Now add the onion ginger garlic paste cover and cook it on low heat for 10-15 minutes. make sure the paste doesn’t burn or become too brown. Stirring occasionally and adding some hot water (about 1 cup) to it when it dries out. Add salt to taste, turmeric (1 teaspoon) and 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and cook it till the raw onion taste is gone.

Give the can of coconut milk a good shake and add it to the cooked onions. Stir and cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Add 2-3 Thai green chillies and 1/2 tablespoon of garam masala powder and 1 table spoon sugar to the sauce. I like to snap mine chillies in halves to let out the beautiful smell of the chillies. But if you don’t want it too spicy you can leave them whole. If you want more curry add 1/2 – 1 cup of hot water and adjust the salt and sugar to taste.

Now taste the curry, it should be slightly sweet, creamy fro the coconut and have the garam masala flavors coming through. Adjust the salt and sweetness if required and then finally add back the prawns. Cover and cook on low for 5 minutes.

Serve with a bowl of steaming basmati rice.


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