Monday, 31 January 2011

Shorshe Chingri

The last time I made shorshe chingri, I was living by myself in a land of snow, slush and skiddy sleet, and not enjoying it one minute (well, maybe a few minutes). But I did have a larger, sunnier, and better-equipped kitchen than I'd ever had at home before. This dish, I decided, was going to be my opportunity to try out those new toys. I did everything right, right upto the moment I popped the prawns in the oven to bake. It came out slightly rubbery and pink. Strike one against ovens.

Thing is, people abroad hard-sell baking as the 'healthier option', and it might be... when compared to chain-shop fast-food deep fried in hydrogenated oil. Regular Bengali cooking, with its light vegetarian curries, zero-spice daals, white fish in barely-spiced broth, and a near-complete lack of butter, ghee, cream, red meat or cheese, doesn't even distantly need the aide of an oven. Baking for the tastebuds, however, is a different matter. I love baked fish and roasted meats, but I like them only in specific ways. And I think I speak for most Bengalis when I say, THIS is how we like our baked fish.

Ingredients:
Black mustard seeds.
Mustard oil.
Turmeric powder.
Green chilies.
Coconut -- white part scraped or sliced (optional).
Pumpkin or potatoes, pumpkin infinitely preferred -- sliced thin.

Skinned and cleaned white fish or shelled and de-veined prawns.

For this recipe, we take off the tails and the outer shell of the head with the feelers/antenna. Then we make a thick paste with the mustard seeds, coconut, salt and a little water. Add the salt! Otherwise the mustard will go bitter. Don't ask me about the chemistry. Slit the green chilies instead.

 A chilli.

 Jab a knife-tip right below the top of the chilli.

 Bring down the knife in one swift motion.

The chilies are slit.

Or you can slit them the boring old way, but when you're weeping fiery tears and your tongue is on fire, with my way you'll at least have the satisfaction of knowing you took a decent punch at the damn chilli when you had the chance.

Now, add the green chilies to the peeled and washed prawns. Then add the mustard you so painfully pasted (or maybe you used a food processor). Add a couple of tablespoons of mustard oil, salt and a little sugar, and mix it up. I'll add a lot of pictures of this short process 'cause they're so pretty :-)



Prawns.

Chilies.

A few teaspoons of mustard-coconut paste.

Peeled prawn heads. They'll feel hard when touched.

Mustard oil.

One more, with feeling. And more oil.

All mixed up!

Now, in the absence of pumpkins, which I kept forgetting to get every time I walked past both the local markets, I used potatoes. Old age and so on, I'm sure. Make sure they're sliced in this shape, and quite thin. I'm sure you're legally allowed to slice them differently, but I'd prefer it if you did it this way. After tripping 'tradition' and sticking my tongue out at it, let's give the old ways a hat-tip.

Add them to the mustard-prawn-chilies mix. Add any remaining mustard paste there is, sprinkle some turmeric, and mix it all up.










Now, this step is no longer strictly necessary, but we still do our fish-baking the old-fashioned way -- wrapped in banana leaves. If you can't get banana leaves, feel free to use any other relatively flavourless large leaves you've used in cooking before.

And, this just occured to me: traditionally -- there goes that word again -- we pay very little attention to food presentation (and thank god for that), mostly because it gets in the way of its eating. But it would look rather fetching if you'd cut the large leaves into smaller pieces and bake each person's serving separately. It's like baking dessert in individual ramequins. This also accomodates smaller flavourless leaves you can use in the recipe if bigger leaves are unavailable, so yay.

Rub the leaf or leaves with a bit of mustard oil.





Now layer the mustard-salt-sugar coated potatoes on the oil-rubbed banana leaf. I've arranged the potatoes like this for fun, but really one can just toss it on. Notice there's plenty of space in between them. This is not about creating a base, but it IS about protecting most of the delicate prawns from charring. After all, potatoes will take longer to cook than the fresh white prawns.






Now, pour some more mustard oil all over the top and sides (not more than a tablespoon though, I'd say). The more total mustard there's in the dish, the more pungent it will be. It'll clear your sinuses if you add beyond your capacity, but you may not find the process particularly gratifying.




Lid the mixture with another banana leaf. Then make a second lid with a thick tawa or plate, or if you're making this in a cast iron skillet, just put the lid on. The smallest possible space between the banana-leaf sandwich and tawa yields the tenderest prawns, so pick your second lid carefully.


After about fifteen minutes (or twenty) of cooking on low, and I do mean low, take the second lid off. The banana leaves will have darkened and will look parched. Usually, you can catch a peek of what's happening inside.

Take off the leaf, marvel at the lovely, lovely colour of the juices from the prawn's head (sorry of that's icky for you). Now pour some more mustard oil, all over the top, replace the banana leaf lid, put the second lid back on, and turn off the heat. This last adding is called "kNacha tel dewa", and imparts more of the sharp, pungent flavour of mustard that we love so much.






Serve over steaming white rice!

11 comments:

Sachinky said...

That looks mad good.

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

This is one of the bestest things that has ever happened to both mankind and prawnkind. I loved the instructions for slitting the chillies.

Soapsuds said...

wonderful as usual...
but what is the red thing underneath? it looks like sticky blood... :/ a little disturbing. I know I'm being a bulb here but help me out please? ghumote parbona noyto...

Rimi said...

Sachinky -- it is!

Abhishek -- not sure about prawnkind, but definitely humankind. *Definitely* humankind.

O -- it's the juice from the prawn heads mixed with mustard oil :D So you're close. All the best with the winks :P

Prawns don't have red blood, darling. Which is partly wy it's haraam, I think.

Dea-chan said...

So since when does your blog only have one post per page? Very strange...


This looks, interesting. It looks like it would be tasty, but sadly, I can tell it would not be to my tastes. :-( But I did always wonder how one was supposed to cook with those big leaves...

I want to have more to say, but nothing's coming atm. Oh well. :-P

Sayantani said...

Hi Rimi, this is Sayantani from A Homemaker's Diary. thanks for your comment on my page, am glad that you liked it. you too have one very interesting page here. like your prawn recipe, this is quite new way of cooking. am a big fan of Bangaladeshi fish recipes and hope to learn more from you.
my mail id is ahomemakersdiary@yahoo.in. mail me anytime.

Magically Bored said...

This looks good, I had Shorshe Chingri just the other day, except we mostly always use tiger prawns. We never use pumpkin, though. Recipes differ from person to person, and from area to area, of course.

sandman said...

And for instant shorshe-chingdi:
1.De-vein and wash chingri,then add two table spoon of mustard paste, three or four table spoon of coconut grated/ paste,one table spoon of oil, salt to taste , a pinch of sugar, green/red chili .
2.Mix it well and then put it in the microwave oven for 5 to 6 minutes.

Voila instant Shorshe-chingdi!

Soapsuds said...

yes yes. chingrir je lal rokto hoyna sheta jani. I've been reading "Most Infamous Murders" and okhane ekta golpe lekha ache how this man mixed human body parts and blood, pieces of arteries and gum tissue with other meat like mutton and beef and pork. He was a chef. :| :/
But obviously you're nothing like him. I'm sure. So... :/

Rimi said...

It's hypocritical to shy away from carnivores, I suppose, if one gobbles every other kind of meat... but there's something quite terrifying at the prospect of being considered a meal by someone else. Ami ei boi ta tai kokkhono porbo na!

sneha sri said...

interesting dishes
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