I am always a bit intimidated to cook seafood, especially shellfish. When I decide to buy some I usually splurge for local and fresh, which can be eye-poppingly expensive. Consequently, I'm terrified of messing my precious shellfish up—either overcooking it to make it tough, or undercooking it to make it, well, inedible.
That's why I wanted to make a simple curry to highlight shrimp, a great entry-level shellfish to bring into your kitchen. It cooks up extremely quickly (2 minutes, people), so all you have to do is toss it into your dish, stir until it's pink and firm, and you're ready to serve. Its mild flavor pairs perfectly with the curry, which is simultaneously spicy, savory, sweet, and slightly sour (thanks, tamarind!). Coconut milk makes it creamy, while the pumpkin and cauliflower lend backbone and balance. All you need is some fluffy jasmine rice and a few sprigs of cilantro, and you've got a bright, spicy bowl of comfort—and the perfect special meal to make this weekend.
Here are a few tricks that catapult this curry to the next level :
Use whole spices (cumin, coriander, etc.) and toast them in a dry saucepan until fragrant. Crush them in a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder, if you have one) to release a flavor and aroma light years ahead of pre-ground spices. You can skip this step if you like, but do make sure to toast your spices before adding them to the dish.
Tamarind paste: This slightly sour paste gives the curry a bit of tang to offset its creaminess and strong spices.
Before you start the curry, use the shells (and heads) of the shrimp to make a quick seafood stock. To do this, cover the shells completely with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, or until the water is reduced almost by half. If you don't want to spend the time to do this, storebought seafood stock will work as well!
Think of this curry as a template and switch things up as needed. Leave out the chili if you don't like spice. If you're not a shrimp fan, feel free to substitute firm-fleshed white fish, such as cod or pollock, or even chunks of squid. If you're vegetarian, you can even skip the seafood altogether! Likewise, feel free to play with the vegetables in the dish, subbing in whatever heartier specimens are in season—I look forward to trying this with sweet potatoes and chickpeas, or eggplant and frozen peas. Just make sure that to add greens or other more delicate vegetables towards the end of the process so that they don't cook down to mush.
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or canola)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 yellow onion, finely sliced
- 3 star anise
- 2 cups cubed pumpkin (or squash)
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 teaspoon serrano chile, sliced lengthwise in half
- 8 fresh curry leaves
- 12 raw shrimp, cleaned
- 1 tablespoon tamarind juice
- 1 1/2 cans coconut milk (600 ml)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 cup seafood stock (or water)
- Coriander, for serving
What's your favorite way to enjoy shellfish? Raw oysters with a squeeze of lemon? Soft-shell crab? Let us know in the comments!