No Guilt Prawn Cocktail

This is a throwback to the good old days in Kolkata and the tea gardens of Assam where traditional English classic food was kept alive by cooks trained by British Memsahibs (wives of tea planters). I don’t know how much prawn cocktail is served any more, because nowadays most people above the age of 25 seem to be on a weight watching spree and the thought of gulping down a ton of mayonnaise with prawns swimming in it would seem a bit of an outrageous concept.

Prawn cocktail, a dish comprising prawns in a mayonnaise-based pink sauce, used to be the ultimate luxury when we would go to restaurants as kids, and now, even though there are many many better ways to make prawns, this one will remain a classic for me. It was the most popular hors d’oeuvres in Britain from the 1960s to the late 1980’s according to Wikipedia. The iconic Mocambo restaurant in Kolkata still has prawn cocktail on its menu, though I pass it over for other calorific dishes such as their devilled crab. Why have it outside when you can make it the low-cal version at home yeah?

So, as nostalgia and childhood eating memories appeared, I made this dish as a starter for a dinner with friends. Since all of us are either cribbing about our weight or making miserly efforts to lose flab, I decided to replace the mayonnaise with thick yoghurt. The dish got a bit of appreciation so I thought I’d share it with everyone.

Ingredients (makes 4 portions)

Prawn Marination

500 gms prawns shelled and de-veined
Pinch of paprika or Kashmiri mirch (optional)
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp lemon juice

Cocktail Sauce 

300 gms thick yoghurt hung in a muslin cloth for two hours
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1.5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1.5 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Assembly

1/4 head shredded iceberg lettuce or lolo rosso
4 individual martini glasses or crystal glasses
Pinch of paprika or Kashmiri mirch for decoration

Get started 

  • Wash and clean your prawns, add the salt, paprika (optional) and lemon juice and set aside.
  • Finely shred the lettuce and place in four individual glasses or, you can use the lettuce as cups for the prawn cocktail.
  • Mix the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and salt with the yoghurt and taste to see if it needs any more seasoning.
  • Heat a saucepan or non-stick pan and saute the prawns in a tablespoon of oil on medium heat till cooked (approximately 5 to 7 minutes if you’re using medium-large sized ones but keep checking). Remove from heat and toss it in the sauce after a minute. If you want smaller pieces, cut each prawn in three equal portions and toss in the sauce. If you’re using whole prawns take about 5 decent sized prawns per head. 
  • Spoon equal portions into the glasses or lettuce cups, put a pinch of paprika in the centre to make it look pretty, and serve. Can also make it an hour ahead and keep in the fridge before serving.

Important notes: Do not overcook the prawns. They will become rubbery. If using small prawns, cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. Always put in a couple of extra prawns and keep tasting them to see whether the prawns are done through the cooking process.

You must hang the yoghurt so that most of the whey (water) drains, else you’ll have a very runny and insipid sauce. On the other hand, make sure the hung yoghurt isn’t too dry. If you think its too dry, just add a tablespoon or two of non-hung yoghurt to it.

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