I love shrimp — have always loved it — even as a child growing up in the eastern province of the Indian subcontinent when it was still part of the British Raj. The shrimp we had in the majestic rivers of Bengal, especially the Ganges, were the best tasting of all. But then, my taste buds were young and vibrant. And the crustaceans themselves have now changed – mostly farm-raised on a manufactured diet.
The other day, my wife, Kaisari saw some wild-caught Louisiana shrimp at Costco – fairly large, about 16 to 20 per pound. They were frozen, which is probably the best way to buy seafood, since they are usually frozen within hours of being caught, right on the fisherman’s trawlers. As I said, I love shrimp, cooked any way, even boiled Louisiana-style with some Old Bay seasoning.
But my favorite way of enjoying this gift of God is to have them curried with coconut milk and hauntingly flavored with kaffir lime leaves – the way my sainted mother used to make, and now my wife does, having learned it from her.
She did just that last week when a few of my siblings and hers got together, as we occasionally do. The shrimp dish was the star of the dinner table. Here is the recipe. All of the ingredients are easily available now (so different from when we came here in 1972).
COCONUT SHRIMP CURRY
Serves 6 to 8
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
about 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons butter
1 can coconut milk (see note)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pinch of sugar
8 to 10 kaffir lime leaves (see note)
Peel and devein the shrimp; wash, drain and set aside. Now go about making the gravy, which is the most important step. Make a paste of the next three items – chopped onion, garlic and ginger – in a mini blender; or mince them on a board as finely as possible, using a chef’s knife. Set aside.
In a deep 10-inch frying pan, heat the oil and add the sliced onion. Cook and stir until the onion is soft; take care not to brown it, lowering the temperature if needed. Add to the pan the reserved onion-garlic-ginger mixture, the turmeric, coriander and cayenne powders, and the whole peppercorns.
Continue cooking, stirring frequently. This will form the base of the gravy. Add a small amount of water if the mixture sticks or begins to brown. Up to this point, it should take about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter in several slices.
Cook, stirring, until the butter melts and a nice and thick golden gravy develops, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Stir in the coconut milk, salt and sugar. Raise the heat slightly and cook, stirring often, until the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t let the sauce stick. Some golden oil will separate and float up; in Indian cooking the sauce is generally not smooth and homogeneous.
Now add the kaffir limes leaves, each torn in two, and the reserved shrimp; cook, stirring and coating the shrimps with the sauce, for about 5 minutes more, or until the shrimps are done. Do not overcook at this point or the shrimps will toughen. Serve with hot cooked rice.
NOTE: My wife prefers the Gold Medal coconut milk from Thailand, available at Publix. If you don’t have kaffir lime leaves, you can make do with strands of thinly pared lime zest, taken out before serving.