Friday, February 10, 2006

Almost Sort-Of Tandoori

It was all right there in the headnote to the tandoori prawns recipe in Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking: "You'll need to buy prawns or very large shrimp; the little ones cook before the marinade has a chance to become a delectable coating."

I ignored it.

I am one to alter a recipe whenever I feel like it, but this wasn't a matter of adding a little more garlic or keeping something in the oven a bit longer, so I suspected there may be consequences. Indeed, the "large" shrimp I found were the biggest and nicest at the market, but they were too small to develop the proper essence of tandoori.

Of course, this was a calculated risk on my part, since I had a pretty good feeling we would eat well regardless of whether we were able to find superjumbo prawns. Besides, for Margy and me, legume lovers that we are, the dal, and not the shrimp, was the true centerpiece of this meal. I made a huge pot of lentils (adding a few leftover kidney beans we had in the fridge) to ensure we'd be having dal and rice for lunch all weekend, and possibly all week. Margy loves nothing more.

As far as the shrimp, they were very good, if not even close to authentic. (Tandoori cooking at home is inauthentic by definition, since home-oven temperatures can't match the infernal heat of a proper tandoor.) I marinated the shrimp in yogurt, lemon juice, and spices for a few hours, and then cooked them in the oven at 550 degrees, letting them rest and then brushing them with butter in the middle of cooking per Saran's instructions. I did allow them to overcook a bit, hoping that would help the marinade bond better. The yogurt coating remained distinct from the shrimp without them fusing as one, but the flavor was there. Next time I see huge shrimp, I'm going to try this again.

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