Chilli Prawn Oil

Bengalis are less divided by caste or economic standing than they are by being ‘Bangaal’ or ‘Ghoti’. There is no SOBO vs Suberb or NCR vs New Delhi positioning in people’s minds in Kolkata. But there is this refugee from East Bengal even if the family has crossed borders before 1947 versus the homegrown gentry from West Bengal classification which creeps into every introduction. The two aquatic stalwarts which gained brand position to keep the war flag furling are ‘Hilsa fish’ alias ‘Ilish maach’ and ‘Tiger prawns’ alias ‘Chingri maach’. ‘Bangaals’ eat ‘Ilish’; ‘Ghotis’ patronise ‘Chingri’. Because the banter in the 20th century is innocuous and because the Bengali person always overeats, everyone eats everything equally delightedly namely ‘Ilish’, ‘Chingri’, ‘Paapda’, ‘Rui’, ‘Bhetki’ and more…..
‘Ilish” is a seasonal fish. The first recipe which is tried out with the first coveted catch or buy of the year is ‘Ilish-er Tel’ which is like a flavoured chilli oil. This is mixed with a small portion of rice and this constitutes the first few mouthfuls of the ‘Ilish’ celebration for the year.
My mother refused to be defeated by seasonality. Why should she have ‘maacher-tel’ only and only when river Padma bestowes her blessings on us. She concocted a ‘Chingri-er tel’ coined for your convenience as ‘Chilli prawn oil.’This is what you do. Marinate about a kg of Tiger prawns with its head intact with salt, 11/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1 tsp turmeric powder. Keep it like this for atleast an hour and a half.

You will need about 6 odd fresh green chillies. Wash and slit them vertically through the centre. In about 4 to 5 tbsp mustard oil once warmed throw in the green chillies. Because they have been slit, they will not sputter and throw up sharp hot seeds. Keep the heat low. In a minute add 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and 2 tsp red chilli powder. Within a minute pop in all the prawns and fry in medium heat on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes each. Keep a lid on while you do this. If you feel the oil has got used up, warm another tbsp of hot mustard oil and pour it in. In another minute you are ready. Taste for salt. Mix with white rice and have gold red rice with crunchy spicy prawn.

Ma cooks really well, she makes many prawn variations. But this one has completely won my husband’s heart. And his stomach. Now even he who barely cooks has learnt to make this.

One last anecdote. My mom is a ‘Bangaal’ and my husband is a ‘Ghoti’. I told you, the love of fish brings the two close. Not a Bengali for nothing.

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Category: Recipes, Tried & Tasted

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