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South-Asian Cooking Series: Prawn Masala (Spicy Prawn Curry)

Stretching all across Asia, from Pakistan to Hong Kong, most Asian nations have curries as part of their culinary heritage. From gourmet curries served in fine dining restaurants to the full bodied ones cooked at home, fathomless variations have developed over the years. Much to the anticipation of any epicure, the flavors, textures and ingredients of curries can be attributed to their geography. Thai curries have coconut milk as their base, Pakistani curries rely on the use of spices and tomatoes and Bengali curries are developed through the incorporation of seafood. As with any cuisine, it is the abundance of ingredients available, with ease, that determines the popularity of the dish.

Prawn Masala

Seafood is popular across destinations that lie near the sea. In Pakistan, the seaport of Karachi is famous for its prawns, crabs and lobsters cooked in fiery spices, whereas in India, Goa is synonymous with Goan curry with seafood and Kerala for its steamed fish in banana leaves. The history of the most succulent seafood curries can be traced by to port cities, where fishing is a source of livelihood for most. Curries are known for their excess liquid that soaks up the rice for enriched flavor. However, this prawn curry relies on its fragrance and flavors and is meant to be relatively dry, hence the name Prawn Masala.

Prawn Masala


  • 500g medium sized prawns
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp garlic/ginger paste
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (heaped)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2-3 green chillies, chopped
  • Handful curry leaves
  • Handful coriander, chopped


  • Boil the prawns in slightly salted water for about 3 minutes
  • Boil the prawns

  • Once they turn pink, remove them from water and set aside
  • In the meantime, mix all the spices together in a bowl, to be used later
  • Spice mixture

  • Heat oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onions. Cook till they start to brown slightly
  • Add the garlic/ginger paste and stir for a further 2 minutes
  • Sprinkle the spice mixture over the onions and stir, making sure to coat the onions evenly with the spices. Add the curry leaves. Stir for another 2-3 minutes till the spices have cooked through and a spicy aroma emanates
  • Cook the spices with the onions

  • Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Cook till the tomatoes begin to soften. Add 2 tbsp of water and stir. Cook till a paste-like consistency forms
  • Cook the tomatoes

  • Lower the heat and mix in the prawns. Coat the prawns with the tomato and spice paste
  • Mix in the prawns and simmer

  • Cover with a lid and simmer till the water dries up about 5 minutes. Make sure the paste does not become too dry
  • Before serving, sprinkle the chopped green chillies and coriander

Prawn Masala

The emanating fragrance of this dish will be the invitation to dinner. Each spice used will complement each other while the use of cinnamon helps to enrich the taste further. It helps to bring about a taste that is beyond words, subtle but powerful. The reason for boiling the prawns instead of wok-frying them, is so that they retain their soft and juicy texture. In my experience, one has to be really careful while cooking with seafood to retain its texture, that makes up about 50% of a winning dish. With prawns, the minute they are thrown into hot oil, they shrivel up and lose their softness. Have it with rice or flat bread, any accompaniment is sure to make this dish a winner.

Prawn Masala


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