Updated: Jul 29, 2022
The mention of this dish on Sunday morning meant lunch was going to be hard to wait for 😋. Malai means cream in Bengali; so the dish is basically shrimp cooked in a creamy coconut curry. If you are into Thai curries, this curry is very reminiscent of that dish but with an undeniably Indian flavor. For any Bong, or the term Bengali's use to self-identify as having ties to Kolkata, India, this just bring nothing but mouth watering memories of childhood.
Growing up, this dish was especially important because of the time that it took to prep the shrimp - clean the head and the shrimp intestine or black vein running the length of a shrimp's back. According to my grandmother, this dish was not worth cooking without the shrimp head so for a long time after coming here, I never attempted to cook this dish. Every time my mom would come to visit, I would take her to the Asian grocery store, Seafood Market, where I would buy the shrimp and she would clean it the traditional way and then there was heaven!
Slowly, I realized that I could not wait for my mom to visit to have this dish. My children are foodies and they love Bengali food so it wasn't fair to them; nor was it fair to my Cape Codder husband who loves the dish just as much. So I started going to Seafood Market once every now and then so I could make Shrimp Malai Curry.
Once that started to happen, I realized just HOW much time it took to make this dish and why it was SO coveted when I was growing up. It was just not possible to do frequently, especially when one was operating under the assumption that this dish was without a chance if there were no shrimp heads!
Finally, I broke down and went to the frozen section of Trader Joe's. That was many years ago. The dish turned out fine. Yes, I did miss the shrimp heads but I have come to realize that most dishes I grew up with are impossible to replicate here because the ingredients simply taste different; fish head or not. That being said, I was very pleased with the version that manifested.
The spices for this dish are super simple which makes it a quick dish to make if you are using store bought shrimp. If you want to try this dish and don't want to take on the hassle of shopping for the spices, then hop on over to the LoveCookYoga Store and get yourself some homemade garam masala (yes, I roast and grind the spices myself!) or a spice of the Whole Spices packet. One of the main reasons I created the spice store is because of how expensive it can get to buy a pack of spices if you want to make an Indian dish at home. Just as an example, a small 4 oz pack of green cardamom (4 tablespoons) can be anywhere from $5-$7, and that is only one of the spices so you can see how it can add up. Then there is the idea of "wasting" and not using the rest of the spices in time which is also a waste of money.
If you want to make this a totally traditional Bengali lunch, start the first course with Hassle Free Basmati Rice, pigeon peas or Arhar Daal and any one of these veggies like Saag Aloo, Potato Cauliflower Stir Fry or a Potato Green Bean Stir Fry. The second course would be the rice and shrimp. Finally, it would be finished out with some sort of a sweet sweet chutney.
Anyway, here is a video for visuals. Check it out!
1/2 cup oil
1 lb shrimp, peeled, veined and defrosted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 - 1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic (2 teaspoon paste)
1 small piece fresh ginger, peeled or 1 tsp paste (size of piece approximately the size of one garlic clove)
1 bay leaf
2-3 whole cloves
2-3 whole green cardamom
small stick of whole cinnamon*
1/2 cup fresh crushed tomato
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt (start with and add more if needed)
1 3/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
Wash and rinse the shrimp in a colander.
Add the salt, turmeric and chili powder to the shrimp and let sit for 10 mins in the colander.
While you wait, peel the onion and chop into big pieces. Peel the garlic cloves. Peel the ginger root.
Heat 2 tbs oil in a wok on high. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and saute for 5-7 minutes till the onions turn reddish brown.
Transfer the onion, garlic and ginger and saute into a cuiseneart blender and let cool for a few minutes while you attend to the shrimp.
In the same wok, take about half the shrimp and place it in a single layer. Reduce the heat to medium. Saute shrimp for about 3 minutes.
Once the shrimp starts to pop and turn orange, flip with tongs one by one and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from wok and cook the next batch of shrimp. Once the shrimp is done, use the same wok to continue on with the curry.
Puree the onion, garlic and ginger and saute.
Add another tablespoon of oil. Turn up the heat to high and add the bay leaf, cardamom and clove pods to flavor the oil. Saute for about 30-45 seconds. Remove from oil.
Add the pureed onion, garlic and ginger into the wok. Turn heat down to medium; stir to deglaze the crumbs from the shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes till the mixture turns reddish brown.
Turn heat on medium high. Add the the crushed tomatoes. Cook for 4-5 minutes till the tomato puree is well incorporated and mixture is browned again. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for another 3-4 minutes stirring frequently (The perfect consistency will be that of almost an onion-tomato dough because the water is so evaporated without any char to it; it took be years to get there so don't sweat it. If you are there, then bravo!)
Add garam masala, the sugar and salt. Cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and the water. Turn heat on high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for 25-30 minutes for the flavors to blend.
Add the shrimp. Turn heat down to medium and cook for another 5-7 minutes, covered till the gravy is creamy.
Turn off the heat and enjoy.
Note: Don't be afraid to adjust seasonings like salt, chili and sugar. I know you may have not tasted the original but the main idea is a creamy coconut sauce that is sweet, savory and slightly tangy :)
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if anything is unclear or if you have any questions. If you try this recipe and it works for you or made modifications, please leave a comment to let the community know.