April is the last month before the monsoon arrives when we cook sea food.There is an old adage in this area ."Do not eat fish in any month in which there is no 'R'". So May, June, July and August are out. This is because the monsoon generally breaks in the first week of May along the west coast of India and this means the fishermen often do not go out to sea as is gets too rough to fish in.Because of the irregularity in fishing you cannot always vouch for the freshness of the seafood in the market and in the heat fish can spoil very quickly.To be safe rather than sorry people eat river fish or go without.
Things have changed of course, because you do get frozen fish in supermarkets but that is at a price and not within the reach of many people.It also has very little taste compared to fresh seafood. Shellfish are a definite no no inless you can get hold of prawns from a prawn farm. Since these are generally "Made for Export" we rarely see them on the market.
So April is the time to make prawns while the suns shines.
Goans are such a cheerful lot I'm sure because they are blessedwith freshwater prawns and fish throughout the year.
One of my favourite recipes for prawn curry is from Tessa Menezes' "The Essential Goa Cookbook ". She now lives in Pune and we had a long chat about how she came to write the book.She welcomed me with bebinca,and plied me with plates of sorpotel in pastry shells as she told me something about the Goan way of life.
Her family home was in the lovely island of Divar, close to Panjim across the river Mandovi in Goa. The bamboo sluices from the inlets were manned by a 'manshekar' who had to bid for the job.This was because he would get to keep the shrimp and fish that were caught in them . Most families had an arrangement with the 'manshekar' to deliver a few prawns and some fish every day. "Ho Garanth "( Hey people of the house) he would yell as he passed with his catch.
The prawns were cleaned , kept in a container next to the cooker and a handful was added to whatever dish was being prepared.
In our village the river water was used to flood the khazan, saline lands, in May and June and poims ,natural pools or ponds, were formed at the end of the khazan into which prawns and other fish larvae came in.They worked well to rid the fields of all the weevils.No fishing in the fields was allowed before harvest time. Around October the Gaunkars-(villagers from the communidade) would gather the king prawns and sweet water fish.On the embankment , hay from the harvested rice was laid and lit. My mother used to sprinkle the unshelled prawns with sea salt and put them on the embers of the fire for a couple of minutes. They were devoured on the spot and they were delicious!
My mouth waters at the thought of those barbecued prawns.Tonight I'm going to make prawn curry and hopefully you shall see a picture of it soon.
Tessa has kindly given permission for me to share her recipe for simple prawn curry- this is one of the easiest recipes ever!
Caril de Camarao
1 cup shelled prawns, cleaned deveined and slightly salted
2 1/2 cups milk extracted from 1 grated coconut, or half a coconut ground to a paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tsps Kashmiri chilli powder
6 cloves garlic, ground
1 medium onion, finely sliced.2 green chillies, slit and deseeded
Salt to taste
Tamarind the size of a walnut, soaked in 1/2 cup of water.
- Put all ingredients except prawns and tamarind water into a pan with 2 cups water. Mix well.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till onions turn soft. Stir occasionally.
- Squeeze tamarind and strain into pan. Stir in prawns. Adjust seasoning.
- Remove from heat as soon as prawns curl up.
Note: In season, sliced raw mango or bimblee are added instead of tamarind for an extra tart curry.
Copyright:Tessa Menezes. Penguin Books.