Tandoori prawns are a surefire crowd pleaser; whether you’re cooking it for just for your family or for a large party. Seafood is delicate, yet the ground spices in the marinade for these tandoori prawns builds a savoury patina of flavour that complements the intrinsic sweetness of the prawns. Now, tandoori dishes – chicken, lamb and seafood must be grilled in a tandoor as the name suggests, but in the absence of tandoors in most urban kitchens, they turn out equally delicious when grilled in regular ovens.
Tandoori Prawns – Spices & Marination
A smattering of carom seeds (ajwain) and dusting of ground mace (javitri), star anise (chakriphool) and cloves, creates a mellow warmth that beautifully balances the tang of lemon juice and yoghurt and the gentle sweetness of the prawns. It may be a tandoori dish but the marinade differs from the one used for tandoori chicken. You’ll need only small pinches of these ground spices, so I recommend pounding them freshly in a mortar and pestle rather than buying them ready made. Pounding the spice sis about the only thing that requires any effort in this tandoori prawns recipe. This dish of succulent shrimps fits into posh dinner party menus as well as it does on barbecue platters.
If you’ve cooked tandoori recipes before, you’ll know that the marination is generally a 2-step process. The first stage is usually a shorter marination with ginger and garlic pastes and lemon juice. The second, longer marination includes a more complex mix of yoghurt with a selection of ground spices. This recipe is no different. Although at first glance, all tandoori marinades may seem to be the same, on a more careful read, you will notice subtle variations in spice blends and in the quantities used. I think that these apparently small changes actually play a big role in giving various kebabs, tikkas and grills distinctively different flavour profiles. Although it has become common practice to use red edible food colour in tandoori dishes, I refrain from it. Kasmiri chilli powder has a bright colour which I rely on to give my tikkas and kebabs a lovely , rich colour that’s natural and not over the top.
Large prawns such as tiger prawns stand up well to grilling, retaining their moisture and shape whereas smaller prawns may dry out. I choose to remove the heads and devein the prawns but keep their tails on because they look pretty in presentation. Also, they turn pink and crunchy and can be eaten (after all, the exoskeleton is made of calcium). If you don’t particularly care for them, by all means take them off. Bamboo or wooden skewers work well to thread the shellfish on – since they may fall through the gaps on the grill if placed individually. Make sure to soak your wooden skewers in water for about 15 minutes before you put the prawns on, to prevent them from burning in the oven.
Tandoori prawns take about 5-7 minutes in the oven (2-3 minutes on each side). They may even be done a few minutes earlier, depending on how large and meaty they are and on the heat levels in individual ovens. You may want to grill one before you start with a whole batch to test the cooking time. Place your rack on the topmost rung of your oven and a tray to catch the drippings in the rung below. They must be grilled in a moderately hot oven (200℃). Tandoori prawns make delicious finger food and appetisers or they may also be served as part of a meal (like I did) or as a snack, rolled up inside a roomali roti or wrap. We had them for Sunday lunch with matar pulao (green pea pilaf) and dal makhni and needless to say those juicy, bright-red, lip-smacking curled crustaceans, were the stars of my table.
- 20 Large or jumbo prawns, cleaned and de-veined with tails left on
- 3 tbsp melted butter for basting
For the 1st marinade
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp ginger paste
- 3 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
For the 2nd marinade
- 4 tbsp light cream
- 75 g Greek yoghurt or hung yoghurt
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- ¼ tsp green cardamom powder
- ¼ tsp carom or ajwain seeds
- ¼ tsp cinnamon powder
- ⅙ tsp star anise powder
- ¼ tsp clove powder
- ⅙ tsp mace or javitri powder
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Mix the ingredients for the first marinade in a large bowl, toss in the prawns and coat them well with the marinade. Allow them to rest for 15 minutes.
- Mix together the ingredients for the second marinade in a separate bowl. After 15 minutes remove the prawns from the first bowl, gently lift them to make sure any excess moisture has dripped off and then put them into the second marinate. Ensure that the prawns are well coated with the marinade, cover the bowl and rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C and place your oven rack on the topmost rung of the oven with a tray underneath to catch any drips.
- Gently thread about 5-6 prawns on each skewer(depending on the length of the skewers), and place them side by side on the rack making sure that they don't overlap. Grill the prawns for 3 minutes on each side. Once they're cooked, baste them with melted butter and grill for another minute before serving.