In most Bengali households, Malai Chingri is a special occasion dish that everyone looks forward to. In my childhood, when we visited Kolkata, my grandma cooked many things, but this was one of the highlights.
Like most traditional Bengalis, my grandma, along with my mum and dad, taught me to never waste anything on my plate. Nose to tail eating was encouraged. Because of this, I grew up loving prawn heads. The freshwater scampi, or Golda Chingri, is an ingredient that is more about the offal and less about the main protein, a bit like foie gras. Unlike tiger prawns or lobsters, its tails are small and not very fleshy, but the heads are particularly meaty, juicy and flavourful. In our home, we call the unctuous brain matter (ghilu in Bengali) prawn marrow.
Lately, I find that most diners, especially the young, are scared at the sight of prawn heads. They’re used to frozen, fast food-style shrimp. So, this dish was my mischievous way of secretly getting diners to enjoy the goodness of prawn marrow, without the apprehension or fear of eating something strange and unknown.
- 1.5 kg fresh water scampi or Golda Chingri
- 500 gm Gobindobhog rice
- 300 gm onions, chopped
- 300 gm tomato, chopped
- 50 gm butter
- 25 gm ginger
- 15 gm garlic
- 250-300 ml thick coconut milk
- 5-6 tbsp mustard oil
- 3-4 tbsp chopped chives
- 3 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp whole black pepper
- 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 10 green chilies (seeds removed)
- 7-8 green cardamom
- 5-6 cloves
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks
- Few pinches of turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- Start by detaching the heads from the tail of the chingri. Keep aside the heads. Marinade the tails in salt, a little mustard oil and a few pinches of turmeric powder.
- Detach the heads from the outer shell and retain them to make the sauce. All the lovely fat and juices in the prawn heads build the foundation flavours of this dish.
- Toast the dry spices lightly in a pan. Puree them in a mixer-blender with the onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, remaining haldi, Kashmiri red chilli powder and green chillies.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot or kadhai, heat some more mustard oil and sauté the puree for 5 minutes.
- Add the prawn heads and sauté them in the paste until all the contents of the pot have taken on a lovely caramelised/golden brown colour.
- Add 2.5 litres of water to the pot, season well with salt, and let it simmer for 30 to 45 mins.
- Take off heat and let it cool down.
- Once cool, strain the contents of the pot through a double strainer. Use a ladle or spatula to push through any pulp of the spice paste as well as the remaining juices and fat in the prawn heads. It is worth the effort to squeeze each one by hand.
- In a deep yet flat pan or pot, heat some mustard oil with a spoon of butter over a medium flame. Add the raw rice and sauté it till it reaches a slightly chalky white complexion.
- Start adding the strained broth one or two ladles at a time with constant and firm stirring, ensuring that the rice does not stick and release its starches.
- Once you sense that the rice is done 70% or 80% (by now you should have used up most of the broth as well), add the chingri along with the coconut milk and remaining butter.
- Cook the rice to an al-dente stage. The risotto should be fluid enough to spread but not run all over the plate.
- Serve piping hot with a generous sprinkling of chives.
Note: You will need large scampi. Ideally, 12-15 pieces per kg. If possible, get it from a local Bengali fishmonger and ask him to clean and devein it with the head on.