On paper, lau chingri is a simple recipe with very few spices. In reality, it can be difficult to get right. Part of the problem is that bottle gourd (lau) can release a large quantity of water. The cook needs to use this water to cook the gourd such that by the time the gourd is perfectly cooked, all of the water has dried up. They must adjust the heat, and cover and uncover the pot based on how much water the gourd releases, and how fast it turns soft. This is a difficult thing to master as it is, but the problem is made worse by the fact that bottle gourds vary widely in water content and tenderness. Every lau is different!
On the day of filming we are lucky enough to find excellent lau in the market, the fine hairs on the surface still intact, AND some spotted kucho chingri (small freshwater prawns), which fishsellers refer to as harin chingri (deer prawns) because of the spots.
- 1 kg lau (bottle gourd, 5-mm sticks)
- 100 g kucho chingri (tiny freshwater prawns, cleaned and deveined with head on)
- 45 g mustard oil
- 1 dried red chilli
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cardamom pod
- 1 clove
- 1 cinnamon
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 6 g ginger paste
- 4 green chillies (slit)
- 10 g salt
- 18 g sugar
- 2 tsp ghee
- 1 pinch gorom moshla
- 6 g coriander leaves (chopped)
- Clean and devein the prawns. Smear them with ¼ tsp each of salt and turmeric. Set aside.
- Peel the lau, and chop it in 5-mm thick strips, 4 cm long.
- Place an empty kadai on the stove. Once it has heated up fully, add mustard oil. Wait for it to give off a gentle smoke and turn pale yellow.
- Fry the marinated prawns in it for 30 seconds. Don’t overfry, or they will become tough. Remove from the oil and set aside.
- Temper the same (now-prawn-flavoured) oil with a dried red chilli, bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and cumin seeds.
- Add cumin powder and turmeric. Fry these on low heat for 2 minutes before adding the ginger paste. Fry for another 2 minutes. If the spices start sticking to the pan, you may add splashes of water and continue frying.
- Add lau, green chillies and salt. Mix everything and cover the pan with a lid.
- You will now have to cook this, stirring occasionally, until the spices are well braised and the lau has ‘reduced’. This can take anything from 25–40 minutes.
- Add sugar and continue cooking until the liquid has more or less dried up.
- Add the fried prawns and continue braising until a very light caramelisation stage is reached.
- Finish with ghee, Bengali garam masala and chopped coriander leaves.