Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Prawn Cutlet: Like none other

পুজো আসছে

 The restlessness of standing on the queu watching people walk away with their oil stained thongas or paper boxes, the smell of fried goodness teasing your nostrils as they pass you by, the patience and perseverence in braving Calcutta’s stifling, humid, heat, wiping your sweaty palms in your handkerchief time and again, while listening to the women in front discuss their mother-in-law issues, the respite at finally reaching the counter and screaming out your order and hearing it echo as the man at the counter shouts it out over his shoulders to the lanky lad standing at the door to the kitchen, the joy of finally holding that flimsy polythene packet with your very own oil stained thonga/paper bag, or the despair of hearing, “Hobe na, shesh hoye gechhe” (Not possible, it is over) – every bonafide Calcuttan has experienced all these emotions mostly in the same sequence, just for the sake of his favourite cutlet or fish fry.

Yes Calcutta’s chop-cutlet culture is stuff of legends and I am no exception when it comes to Calcutta’s renowned chop-cutlet the best of which you will find in hole-in-the-wall eateries tucked in busy, crowded streets. However, mostly when we talk about Calcutta’s chop-cutlets, the cafes and cabins of North and Central Calcutta always claim the limelight. Which is ok, but not quite. I am a South Calcutta girl, which means, and there are reasons, I am different from someone born and brought up in North Calcutta. But that’s another story. In short, we have experienced the city in different ways. To come to the point, I have had to depend on chop-cutlet shops in South Calcutta to satiate my cravings mostly. Yes once in a while, I did have that odd Kabiraji from Mitra Café. And to tell you the truth you do get some gorgeous chop-cutlet in this part of the city too. And my favourite in Campari.

Campari is located in South Calcutta’s most popular shopping area Gariahat, (even te posh malls haven’t been able to dim the glory of Gariahat. It is like the New Market (another legendary calcutta market dating back to the colonial days, Hogg Market) of the South. Campari is not exactly a hole-in-the-wall joint. It is larger. And it even has a few tables inside. There are no chairs. You have to stand around the tables and grab your bite. But to me the place dishes out some of the best deep fried goodies in the city. And my favourite is their Chicken Cutlet, a thick chicken breast fillet, gorgeously spiced, crump coated and fried to perfect. The bone remains attached to the breast fillet, makes it easy to hold the cutley, but I am known the scraple of the crumb coating from that piece of bone too.

I still remember the weekend trip to Gariahat with my parents. My mum went to shop, my dad and I went for the chicken cutlets we would invariably have at the end of the shopping spree. In fact, my dad would be restless all the while my mum stepped in and out of shops, sometimes merely window shopping for hours. He would try to hasten the process, but mum would take her time, chiding him once in a while for his childish behaviour. The real child with them, ME, would be in real distress actually. Those were the longest shopping sprees I’ll ever go on. Finally Mum would be done and I would accompany my mum to the car while Dad would head straight to Campari to get our chicken cutlets and fish rolls. Ma loves their fish rolls more.

And every time Ma would insist that we eat only after reaching home cause we would dirty the car otherwise. Or she would site the need to wash our hands as a reason why we should wait until we got home. My dad complied, but I know he only pretended to. Because he wanted to wolf down those cutlets are fast as I wanted to. And then I would start begging, and Dad would find the perfect excuse to dig in. “Come on,” he would say, “she has been waiting for so long”. On certain days Maa would ask Dad to get the cutlets packed unfried. “We could fry them at home and eat them for dinner, piping hot.” She would say. And my heart would sink.

We do not go on those customary weekend trips to Gariahat anymore, now we go once in a while but mostly to Campari. I still love their chicken cutlets and fish rolls. And while Bangali's love for chop cutlet is perennial, chomping on chop cutlet and fish fry during Durga Pujo is special. And this time I plan to go Cutlet joints hopping rather than pandal hopping. My friend Priyanjali, a journalist with a leading daily in the Capital, is coming down to the city this pujo, and I plan to drag her along. By the way it is her birthday today. So Happy Birthday Priyanjali. Stayed blessed always! 

Now about this post. Yes I am going to share with you my recipe for prawn cutlets. My dad swears by prawn cutlets and I make them often. But this one is a different game altogether. So I started out to make Chingri Paturi, basically prawns marinated with mustard and coconut paste and a few other ingredients, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. But then obsessed as I am with giving my dish a twist,I was not satisfied. I thought a little, cribbed a lot and finally turned the paturi into cutlets. The result is fabulous. 

Now shapng these cutlets are a bit of a challenge, I have used 6-8 whole prawns. And you would need some patience to get it right. But if I could, you can too. 


Medium sized prawns (cleaned, heads, tails removed) - 750 g 
Coconut paste - 3-4 tbsp 
White mustard paste - 2 tbsp 
Poppy-seed/ khus khus paste - 1 tbsp 
Green chili paste - 1.5 tbsp 
Minced green pepper/ capsicum - 1 medium sized 
Salt to taste
Bread crumbs as required 
Eggs 1+1 
Mustard oil - 4 tbsp 
Vegetable oil for deep frying 


 In a bowl mix the prawns with all ingredients except the eggs, bread crumbs and oil for frying. Keep aside for fifteen minutes. 

Now add one egg to the prawn mixture. And in another bowl whisk the other egg, add a pinch of salt and pepper and keep.

Now tip the bread crumbs onto a large plate or board ad spread out evenly. Place 6-7 prawns on the bed of crumbs in the shape of a cutlet.. Press the prawns together. With your hands scoop up bread crumbs onto the cutlet. press down gently once the cutlet is formed brush of extra crumbs from the top and very gently flip it over. Gently shape and press together the cutlet. 

Now with a brush apply the whisked egg onto the surface of the cutlet and scoop over more bread crumbs for a second coat press together firmly but gently. Turn over and repeat the process. 

Refrigerate the crumbed cutlets for a couple of your. 

Then heat oil in a pan, once smoking hot add one cutlet at a time and fry on medium low flame until crisp and a golden brown. 

Serve with a lime wedge, fresh greens and ketchup.

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