Many many years ago my father once presented my mother with a Parsi cook book that over time it has not only become tattered and torn but has dwindled to just a fifth of its size, the rest having literally been blown away. Now anyone who knows his onions will vouch for the uniqueness of Parsi food. Till recently , Parsi food was only available at Parsi homes, RTI outlets and Parsi weddings and Naojotes. Of course it was also available at the Victory Cafe which old Bombay wallahs may remember as a stall run by Parsi women with food brought in from their kitchens. The money from the proceeds of the sale was put towards the war effort hence the name Victory Cafe. This little eatery situated at the Apollo Bunder pier near the current Atomic Energy Office was famous for its Dhansak Rice, Lace cutlets and Patra ni Macchi. I particularly have fond memories of the place as my dad took me there for the one month I was recuperating from an appendectomy and I loved leaving school in the middle of the day for a special treat. It was fun eating piping hot food while the rain sprayed on your face.
Those were the days when we were hardly ever invited to eat at friends’ homes those days and eating out was even more rare (especially at Parsi restaurants) so the only option we had was to get a Parsi cook book which my father promptly did. That proved to be the best buy ever for my mother followed it faithfully and replicated all those yummy dishes at home, chief among them being the prawn pickle till it finally became part of our family kitchen.
So when I was entertaining around 40 people last week, I decided to make some Prawn Pickle Parsi Style simply because it could be made ahead of time and that would leave me with one less dish to make on the day. I also thought that if there was any pickle remaining, I could easily keep it in the fridge to eat on another day.
Post monsoons the fishing trawlers are active once more but I was surprised when the fisherwoman at the fish market told me that the seas are too cold for the fish and the best time to really eat fish is in February-March when the waters are warmer but I managed to get fish from Mumbai Fish which I discovered thanks to my friend V (an enthusiastic pescatarian) who swears by its fresh catch. I called them the day before I wanted to make the pickle for unlike Pesca Fresh which has same day delivery, Mumbai Fish needs a 24 hour advance notice. But like Pesca, the delivery was prompt and I got my 1000 g of peeled and deveined prawns.
Here’s what I did
1. Washed and patted dry the prawn. Sprinkled with salt and left aside on a duster to soak up any water
2. Soaked 10 red chillies in 1/2 cup vinegar ( to soften) and made a masala paste with 2 tspns cumin seed, 1/2 tspn turmeric, garlic cloves( about half an onion) and the soaked red chillies.
3. I then heated 3 tablespoons of oil in a kadahi and fried the prawns till pink. I removed them from the kadahi and kept them aside.
4. I then sauted the masala paste in oil adding 2 tablespoons of vinegar till all the vinegar was used up and the oil separated from the paste.
5. I added the fried prawn and stirred into the masala paste. I then allowed the pickle to simmer so that the spices penetrated the prawn.
Parsi Prawn pickle is easy enough to make and finishes even faster. For my guest list of 25 non vegetarians I used 1000 kg de veined and cleaned prawn.
And I’m pleased to say that despite the meat and the chicken there was not a prawn left that night!