I recently got a earful from a friend. Actually it was both ears full and all the space between ‘em.
“If you aren’t going to send anything my way, how about posting something spicy and super-quick” she grumbled in mock irritation. I’ve known her too long for her to be mad at me over the phone
“Something I can whip up even when I’m deadbeat” she said at the end of her little tirade on how selfish I was. She was looking for an add-on to her meal she told me, something in the nature of a condiment that would lift up the meal she had delivered to her house on week-nights. Packed in an insulated and compartmentalized ‘tiffin’ box, her dinner usually comprised a dal (Indian dish of lentils), rice, rotis (flat bread) and a vegetable or two, which she ate more out of compulsion than desire. Coming home from a work day that never seemed to end, negotiating traffic and crowded trains to get back to what she called a “mundane meal” she ate with distaste. Having take-out at lunch everyday was bad enough, and her stomach often rebelled.
So I was on the spot and I had to redeem myself. I know what it’s like to work the 9 am to 11 pm routine, coming home exhausted and irritated, peering into the fridge to see if there was anything in there which would perk me up, only to find bottles of sauces and cartons of juice. The weekends would come and go in a blur, and when I wasn’t trying to get out of the city for a breather, I had a zillion different chores that needed doing. Shopping for food though part of my ‘To Do’ list often got shelved.
I thought I should do something for her which would keep. Something which would be enjoyed over many, many meals. And then my fisherman got a batch of prawns in one morning, and I leapt up and reached for the curry paste.
I had ordered large prawns from the fisherman for another dish I had in mind but his idea of large didn’t quite meet mine. Or perhaps these prawns were destined for piquancy. More medium sized, some bordering on small, I immediately knew they were going to be pickled. A recipe that was quick and easy to fix… spice on the go. Bottled, this pickle keeps well if kept in a cool and dry place. You can even store it in the refrigerator.
So here it is. No soaking of red chillies in vinegar, none of the de-seeding and grinding that pickles usually involve. Quick n Easy Pickled Prawns.
We Indians love our pickles and chutneys, from the sweet mango murabbas, to the mild water-pickled raw baby mangoes I ate with bowls of steaming congee whenever I visited my grandmother in Goa… to the fiery hot pickles made with ground red or green chillies, with mustard seeds and other spices, cooked in copious quantities of oil, not a drop of water daring to find its way to contaminate the spicy treat in any way.
Summertime was pickling time, back at my grandmother’s place. Rows of sliced mangoes, carrots, aubergines, cauliflower, and different kinds of salted fish drying out in the sun. There were meats too… dried and cured, and mixed with a mélange of spices, then cooked, cooled and bottled. The weather was gentler in those days and the longer the pickle sat, the better it tasted.
This pickle is a simple one, made with a purpose. All it took was a couple of spoonfuls of curry paste, some spices, oil, and the prawns which was my key ingredient. I made the pickle a month and a half ago and left it sitting, all bottled up, waiting for its flavours to develop. You can of course eat it immediately as well, since the vinegar I used was well-cured home-made vinegar. But it does taste way better when it’s left to its own devices for a while.
Here are the ingredients –
1 kg medium sized prawns (shelled, de-veined, washed, drained and then patted dry)
5 heaped tablespoons curry paste (I used a paste that said ‘hot n spicy’ )
1/4 to 1/3 cup palm vinegar (I used more but it really depends on whether you like the flavour)
2 tablespoons of granulated demerara sugar
1 level tablespoon salt
4 cups sesame seed oil (1 ½ cup to fry the prawns and 2 ½ cups to cook the curry paste and prawns) … many people prefer to use mustard oil but I love the nuttiness of the sesame oil which adds a surprise element to this pickle
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon minced garlic (almost to a paste – 4 large cloves should do)
A sprig of curry leaves
Fry the prawns on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minute. Drain them well and reserve.
Meanwhile heat the second batch of oil, put in a sprig of curry leaves and flash fry, remove the leaves and discard them. Turn the flame down to low before adding the mustard seeds, toss them in the oil and immediately add the curry paste. Cook on low for about 20 – 25 minutes till the oil separates and the curry paste is well cooked.
Now add in the prawns, raise the heat up a notch and cook them, for roughly 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar, salt and sugar and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes. Turn of the heat and leave the curried prawns to cool. Do not cover the dish with a lid as you don’t want any water caused by the rising steam to fall into the pickle.
Once the curried prawns have cooled completely, transfer them into clean, sterilised glass bottles, making sure that there is at least 1 cm of oil floating on top of the curried prawns. Cover the top of the bottle with a piece of muslin or a double piece of cling wrap and keep the bottle/s in a cool and dry place for at least a month before eating.
These pickled prawns are best enjoyed as an accompaniment to a simple meal of rice and dal.
I sent some over to my friend, along with the recipe and she ate it with buttered bread . I suppose anything goes when you’re hungry.