It’s about time.
Really, I have absolutely no idea I took SO long to write about the world famous Sri Lankan prawn curry. This here is hand down, one of the best culinary creations that we Sri Lankans have gifted to the world and also one of our very own household favorites. And to think that I took my own sweet time to blog about this is just incomprehensible.
When the Sri Lankan prawn curry is cooking in the kitchen, usually the whole neighborhood knows. The beautiful smell of the prawn simmering in the flavorsome coconut milk broth laced with spices, garlic, ginger and onions is just so heavenly and beckons the rest of us loitering in our rooms from out of our lairs and into the kitchen with the hope of a taste. This beautifully creamy curry bursting with flavor is amazing with rice and equally with string hoppers, bread or any other flatbread that you can think of. I usually like to sit in a corner with the almost empty pot on my lap with a loaf of bakery bread, tearing up chunks of it and dipping them into the curry with my bare hands. Nobody disturbs me during these tender times at the peak of intimacy, my prawn curry and I.
Come to think of it, I think I’ve never actually looked at another human being the same way I look at this prawn curry. Hmm…
Sri Lanka is surrounded by the sea, so there’s no real wonder that us Sri Lankans know our way around seafood really well. One such example is the Sri Lankan crab curry, another one of my absolute favorites. And then there’s the much coveted fish ambul thiyal, a Sri Lankan southern specialty.
Sri Lankan Prawn curry
- Prawns - 500g, large
- Coconut oil - 3tblsps
- Garlic - 8 cloves, finely minced
- Ginger - 1 inch, finely minced
- Onion - 1 big, chopped
- Curry leaves - 12
- Pandan leaf - 1 inch
- Sri Lankan curry powder - 1 tblsp
- Fennel - ½ tsp, ground
- Chili powder - 1tsp
- Coconut milk - 1 cup, thick
- Chilies - 2-3, chopped
- Black pepper - ½ tsp
- Salt - As per taste
- Moringa leaves - A handful
- Clean the prawns. I usually clean the heads and also deshell them, leaving only the tails intact. In this instance, I have kept the heads intact and only deveined the prawns.
- Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over a high heat. I use a clay pot for this. Add the onion, ginger and the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add to this the curry powder, fennel, chili powder, the chilies, pepper, the curry leaves and the pandan leaf. Sautee until fragrant.
- Add in the prawns and sear them on each side, stirring gently. Be careful as you don’t want to break the prawns.
- Add in the coconut milk. Cover and simmer until the curry thickens slightly and is fragrant. Add in the moringa leaves. Add a bit of water if you think the gravy needs to be thinned out a bit. Season with salt as necessary.
Once cooked through, the curry will be nice and thick with all the flavors of Sri Lanka merged within. From within the thick, creaminess of the curry, the fragrance of the curry leaf, the soft tones of the pandan shines through while the complex Sri Lankan curry powder softly teases the tongue, mellowed by the coconut milk. The ginger provides the heat while the chili is piquant and flavorsome, providing a beautiful foil to the otherwise mellow dish. You may notice that the prawns are hardly the centrepoint, but ah, how wrong you are! The prawns in fact have already done their part, imparting their flavors into this beautiful broth and in doing so, you wouldn’t know where the prawn began and where it ended! The prawns are juicy and wonderful to bite into, with a lovely caramelization on the sides to lend that extra bit of flavor. Simply put, this prawn curry literally just sings on your palate and I dare you to stop eating it.
Some tips to make it all the more flavorsome
- There is an ongoing debate about the prawn heads and personally, I am someone who likes to make this all 3 ways. The first is to cook the prawn with the head on. The second is to remove the heads, sauté it with the spices to make the gravy all the more flavorsome. The third is to blend the prawn heads together with a little water and strain it into the gravy. All these methods work!
- The addition of prawns – prawns can be either added in the beginning with a bit of carameliation on the side or added at the very end after the gravy is almost ready. I opt for the first method because this way, the gravy has more time to absorb the prawn flavor and become yummier in the process.