i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!
Anyone who studied at The Madras Catering in the 70s and 80s would remember that these were (and possibly still are) the best known places to eat when in Madras, especially when you were broke!
If you don’t believe me, ask Sriram, Murphy, Dexter, Praveen (these guys live in Australia today), and a thousand others will confirm this, “Yup,” they will say, “you bet!”
These foodie joints also had something else in common – they were all owned and operated by a community that comes from the west coast of India, known as the Malabar Coast.
These people are descendants of the Arab traders who traded in spices way before the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British came to this part of the world. They are called the Moplahs or the Mapillai, literally meaning the son-in-law or a person held in high esteem!
These people don’t just know their spices, they have created a wonderful cuisine called the Malabar Muslim Food!! Their pathiri and the muttai masala and the meen mulakkithattu and the chemeen . . . are to die for!!!
What memories! These were the best days of my life koi lauta de mere beetein huay din!!
But let’s get back to the food joints, Kaanagam was popular for a cup of chaaia (the best cup of tea you’ll ever have!), Runs made (the best) mutton korma with kerala parota and Coronet cooked (the best bl..dy) prawn and fish buryaani, and to top it all you could pay when you (or any of the above mentioned friends) had the money. The only condition was that you had to be from Madras Catering!!
I am extremely happy that I got a taste of some of the best Southern Indian food that one can find anywhere on the planet!
These restaurants were basic food joints with a table, a chair, a spoon, a fork and a glass tumbler and that is it.
There was a cashier counter, too, where the boss sat and counted his takings while keeping a close eye on all the operations!
This boss managed all the people who worked at the restaurant and the product took care of itself. Eating there was never a let down!
My relationship with Coronet restaurant began when a bunch of my seniors (Praveen, Dexter, and others), took me to the restaurant during the ‘initiation process’ (a.k.a mental disintegration process) that was customary at the college, and asked me to ‘wait’ at their table while they sat, chatted and happily enjoyed the fish buryaani.
I had to serve them, clear their table, wash their plates and cutlery and also settle the bill for them. How cool was that?!!
Well, not cool at all. In fact, it made me so angry and hungry (in both meanings of the word) that I promised myself that I would come back some day and treat myself to a buryaani when these seniors were at college.
I did get my chance but it was a complete disaster.
The owner managed to get in touch with Dexter who was still at college and asked him to come in immediately as there was a junior sitting at the table having his buryaani.
Now Dexter (who now lives in Melbourne) picked up Murphy (who also lives in Melbourne!) and drove straight down to Coronet just as I was about to have my first mouthful of the much awaited buryaani and they sat either side of me at the table.
So, forget about having the bur . . . ni, I ended up peeling onions and garlic for the chefs!
This was to be my first taste of a commercial kitchen and, believe it or not, I have lasted in one for over three decades!
Years later, when I finally got a chance in Mangalore to learn this wonderful art of buryaani making I wasn’t going to miss it, no way!!
So, in an effort to make amends for that time, here’s the biryaani that I love to cook. It’s with prawns, or chemeen as they call them, which make a delicious biryani.
Please try it yourself and let me know what you think. If you’d prefer to see a one page version of the prawn biryani, click prawn biryani recipe.
So, before we begin, in summary here’s what we’ll be doing. (Don’t be put off by the 11 steps! A lot of the steps are very quick. Basically, from start to “Okay, let’s eat!” is about 90 minutes.)
First: prepare our clay pot; 2) prepare the rice; 3) make prawn stock; 4) caramelise our red onions; 5) marinate then 6) sear the prawns; 7) make the biryani marinade(masala); 8) mix it together and bake in the oven. Whilst it’s baking away we get on with our accompaniments: 9) make our masala; 10) cook our pappadums (yes folks, these are bought!); 11) make our coconut chutney.Oh, and use the seafood garam masala (click garam masala blog for the seafood garam masala recipe).
That’s it. So, let’s get started.
Ingredients: clockwise, in the plate: oil, unsalted butter, salt, ginger paste, garlic paste, crushed coriander, crushed biryani garam masala, ground fresh chillies, turmeric powder, chilli powder, lemon juice. outer ring, clockwise: sliced red onions, sliced white onions, kari leaves, chopped coriander leaves, polished rice (sona masoori), shelled and de-veined fresh prawns
a clay pot will give a delicious, earthy flavour to the biryani
Preparing the clay pot and its lid
immerse both the lid and the pot in water and place 4 cm of water inside both the lid and the pot: this will ensure the clay pot doesn’t crack when it is in the oven
Cooking rice using the draining method
choose your rice
choose your rice: shown are sona masoori rice (top left) and basmati rice (top right). I could have used the longer grained basmati rice from the north, but chose to use the short grain sona masoori rice from the south because this is a southern style biryani!!
Soak your rice
Cook your rice
Preparing your prawn stock
Caramelising red onions
when butter has melted and there is no more froth, add 2 red onions and 1/2 tsp salt
caramelise onions – watch my video if you need instructions – don’t discard oils afterwards; leave it in the frying pan
prepare biryani masala
Combine seared prawns, masala and prawn stock
Accompaniment – Masala pappadums
1 cup diced red onions, 11/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup chopped coriander
Adding masala to pappadums
Accompaniment – Coconut chutney
Ingredients: fresh grated coconut, sliced ginger and fresh coriander, without roots
add coriander and coconut to mixing bowl
add sliced ginger
blend with warm water – your chutney is ready
Well folks, this completes the long journey making our six garam masalas!! Please make any of the garam masalas for other dishes too. I’ll be returning to these masalas in the future.
I hope you have enjoyed reading it (and cooking it) as much as John and I have in bringing it to you!
Join us next week as we travel around this beautiful land called India and I will reveal some really unique VEG(AN)ETARIAN dishes for you to try!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!