Here’s a recipe with the very deceptive ‘roast’ in its name. An Indian‘roast’ basically means a dry dish with roasted and fried spices rather than one with a gravy. I have had ‘roasts’ mainly in the south – in Kerala and Bengaluru but I haven’t been to Mangalore where this dish is said to have originated.
In Kerala, they ‘roast’ by frying onions and then the spices in coconut oil. In Mangalore, a roast is made with ghee and usually contains chicken. The popular recipe ‘chicken ghee roast’ is said to have originated in a small town called Kundapur just outside Mangalore. The chicken is cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated in yoghurt, ginger and dry spices. The ghee is used to fry garlic and a whole bunch of other spices. This mixture is cooked with water and made into a paste, added to the chicken and the whole lot is cooked together until the masala is quite dry. In Chettinad chicken ghee roast, the marinated chicken pieces with bone and skin are fried in ghee first to render the chicken skin crispy.
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I tasted the most wondrous prawn ghee roast a couple of years ago in a restaurant in Pune called Mr Rabbits. Nanda Shetty and her two sons owned the popular restaurant and bar. The place was packed every night with regulars. It looked like an Indian version of the sitcom Cheers. People drove miles for Nanda’s Kerala mutton pepper fry, the fried fish and her amazing prawn ghee roast. I spoke to the rather shy Nanda who explained that they were on a family holiday in Mangalore and had amazing dishes of prawn and chicken ghee roast at a small restaurant called Anupama. Of course, nobody would divulge the recipe and so, being an accomplished cook herself, she set about to discover the secret. After much trial and error, she recreated the recipe, which is a much simpler version of the many ‘original’ ones and frankly it’s the best I have ever had. She cooked it right in front of me in a matter of minutes! So here it is.
PRAWN GHEE ROAST
1 kg prawns, peeled and deveined (with tail on)
For the marinade
1 cup yoghurt
Half tsp turmeric
Pinch of salt
For the roast
15 byadgi chillies
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin
6 tbsp ghee
6–8 onions, finely chopped
A handful of curry leaves, fried
Marinate the prawns in the yoghurt, salt and turmeric for about half an hour. Dry roast the spices individually in a frying pan or under a grill and grind to a powder together – this will be your base roast masala powder. Heat ghee in a pan and fry the onions first on a low flame to cook and then on a high flame till they brown. Add the roasted spice powder and fry for a few seconds. Add the marinated prawns and stir on a high flame till the masala dries up and the prawns are cooked. Season with salt. Garnish with the fried curry leaves.
Excerpted with permission from ‘Masala Memsahib’ authored by Karen Anand and published by Pan Macmillan India.