A prawn pulao is always a crowd pleaser. Seafood and rice have a synergetic relationship and together create the most soul-satisfying dishes, paella for example. One of my favourite comfort foods is a plate of fish curry and plain steamed rice. It needs nothing else, no side dishes, relishes or accompaniments required. The prawn pulao is similar.
We’re a seafood loving family and when my local fish seller had a heap of large, succulent prawns for me, a fuss-free prawn pulao for Sunday lunch was my first thought. Now there are biryanis and there are pulaos (or pilafs if you prefer). A biryani typically is layered – half cooked rice and spiced veggies, meat or fish are arranged in alternating tiers and cooked together. It almost always requires ground masala paste, whole spices, and herbs such as mint and coriander. In a pulao, the protein or vegetables are mixed with rice and whole spices and/or dry ground spices (usually) and then cooked. This pulao though needs a masala paste. On the whole, it is simpler and quicker to put together a pulao. Its lightness makes it more appropriate for a warm summer day.
Like most recipes that originate from the western coast of India, this one too has coconut, albeit only a small amount. You will also need a little bit of coconut milk but you can even do without it. The other fresh ingredients include the usual onion, garlic and curry leaves. The dry spices are store cupboard regulars – cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise. You don’t need to go shopping for this one. This prawn pulao is cooked in one shot, no advance steps, marination etc required.
I had good-sized prawns; if you like, you can make this recipe with a mix of assorted shellfish such as shrimp, calamari, mussels and even chunks of firm white fish. Also, if you have time and inclination, make some stock from prawn heads and large fish bones and use it to cook the pulao. This would boost flavour meter substantially but it’s completely optional. I make the stock in advance when I have the time, although on this occasion I decided not to.
Come to think of it, this prawn pulao recipe sounds like a desi paella with Indian spices and seasonings. Make a large batch for a gathering of friends and family and you will not need to fuss with sides and extras.
- 500 g Basmati rice
- 800 g medium-large prawns, shelled, de-veined and washed
- 3 onions, thinly sliced
- 20-30 curry leaves
- 150 ml coconut milk
- 2 tbsp natural yoghurt, whisked
- 3 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 1-inch pieces cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 5-6 cloves
- 5-6 green cardamoms
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
For the masala paste
- 5 tbsp fresh coconut, grated
- 6 dried red chillies
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 star anise
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled
- Was the rice and soak covered in water for 20 minutes. Then drain the rice completely.
- Sprinkle a little salt (no more than 1/4 tsp) and turmeric on the prawns, mix and set aside.
- Grind the coconut and all the other masala ingredients to a thick, smooth paste in using a little water.
- Take a large, flat, thick-bottomed pan (so that things don't stick and burn), heat 2 tbsp ghee on medium flame and fry half the curry leaves and all the onions till slightly golden.
- Add the coconut masala and saute of low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Then tip in the prawns and mix to coat the prawns with masala.
- Cook for 4-5 min and add the yoghurt and cook for a further minute. Then remove the prawns and set aside.
- Now add the remaining tbsp of ghee on a low flame and add the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin and peppercorns. Let them fry for a few seconds and add the rice.
- Saute the rice for about 7 minutes till the grains are nice an toasty.
- Add the remaining curry leaves and prawns and mix with the rice and spread to create and even layer.
- Pour in the coconut milk and just enough water to cover the rice and prawn mixture. Season with salt and gently swirl to mix it in.
- Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a low-medium flame (without opening) for 20 minutes. Then, switch off the stove, move the pan to a cooler surface and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- Open the lid after 15 minutes, gently fluff the rice with a fork and serve the pulao hot.