Sunday, 30 March 2014

Prawn Balchao and a few memories

One of my most distinct childhood memories that has Ma in it is of her playing Shaayad Meri haadi Ka Khayal...on the black upright piano in her bedroom, lights dimmed, while I twirled around her. I loved the song and would beg Ma to play it just one more time. I was 5 perhaps. Seems like a scene from a film eh? My life story.
        I decided on one such evening that I wanted nothing more in life than to get married. At 5, yes. Sometimes my dad would say, as he cuddled me, that he would never get me married and send me away cause he couldn't afford to part with his darling daughter. And all hell would break loose. There I would be on the ground, whining and sobbing, I will marry, that's what I'll do when I grow up, I would tell him.
      Anyway, so Ma loved the piano. She never pursued it seriously, but whenever she played the keys, her love for it would shine through. At one point I used to take piano lessons too, but somehow I never warmed up to it. It was perhaps because I was terrified of my piano teacher and before long I gave it up. That made Ma sad, I now feel I failed her in a way.
     Ma had a wonderful teacher though, one Miss Kathy. She was a Goanese of Portuguese origin but had come to Calcutta as a young woman and settled here. She must have been in her early 60s then. A very sweet lady and though I do not have too many memories of her, Ma still remembers her fondly. Now, she was a great cook too and she had shared two of her recipes with Ma, Mutton Vindaloo and Prawn Balchao. I had found the two recipes in Ma's decades-old notebook that was suddenly discovered, a few months ago, and the Balchao, Goan style pickled prawns, really appealed to me, festering between the yellowing dusty pages of the notebook until now it begged for a place in my kitchen....and I embraced it alright.
       That notebook is gone, again, lost during renovation upstairs, and Miss Kathy's Balchao has undergone a few changes in my hand over the few times I made it. i referred to a few other recipes of the dish and picked a few elements. For instance, I use curry leaves in my dish, which wasn't there in Miss Kathy's original recipe. Again, I have added sugar in my version. Besides, I use prawns heads and all because I feel the juices in the heads do a world of good to a dish. But the dish I guarantee is still a huge hit.
       You see, I am not an authenticity snob myself, for me if a dish is delicious, I a going to vote for it, even if it compromises a little on authenticity. Again a very authentic preparation might not go down well with me My judgement is ruled by taste alone.And as far as that's concerned this seems to be a winner. I say seems because I am allergic to prawns and have no idea how this dish turns out. I loved prawns as a child you know and then things just went horribly wrong.
     It's Sunday today and Dad had brought home some awesome prawns. There was a tie between Gambas pil pil and Balchao, and this time the Goanese beat the Spaniards. Balchao was the unanimous decision. Besdies, the Kolkata Food Bloggers is hosting a special event, East or West, Food is the Best, and I thought this could be an awesome entry.

So here goes...


Prawns - 1 kg (cleaned and deveined)
White oil
Onions (chopped) - 3 (medium)
Tomatoes- 2 medium
Vinegar- 100 ml
Garlic - 15-20 cloves
Ginger - 1 inch root
Cinnamon stick - 2 inches
Cloves - 10
Cumin whole - 1 tbsp
Mustard - 1/2 tbsp
Whole dried red chilies - 8-10
Kashmiri red chili powder- 1 tsp
Curry leaves - 2 sprigs and more for garnishing


Heat oil in a pan and toss in the prawns with a dash of salt, in batches, fry until the prawns turn opaque and is nearly done but not quite. Keep aside.

Dry roast the cumin, mustard, whole red chilies, cinnamon sticks and cloves and cool.

Use a mortar and pestle or a grinding stone to grind the garlic, ginger and the roasted spices together, pouring in the vinegar to the paste, on the go, little by little. Of course, you can use an electronic grinder but the effect is not the same. Miss Kathy insisted on a mortal pestle.

Now heat about 3 tbsp oil in a pan and add the curry leaves. Once its exudes its aroma add the onions and fry. Add some salt so that the onions soften quickly.

Next add the tomatoes and fry until it softens and melts into the mixture.

Finally add the Balchao masala and Kashmiri chili powder, fry until oil separates.

Add the praawns, toss it in the spices and cook for a couple of minutes covered, on low heat, until prawns are done.

Serve hot with plain rice.

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