Home > Food, Provenance > My Little Darlin’s Chicken and Prawn Curry

My Little Darlin’s Chicken and Prawn Curry

Preparation Time: 60 minutes Cooking Time: 60 minutes Yield: 6-8

Chicken and prawn curry, much like it was made at the Muthaiga Club in 1940's Nairobi

With friends coming for dinner on Friday night, I was at a loss as to what I ought to cook. Browsing through the deep freeze, my eye fell upon a pack of prawns and I was instantly transported back to the early 90’s as I recalled a visit to the Durban Country Club as the guest of colleague. In those days, it was considered the pinnacle of social accomplishment in Durban to be a member of the Club, and an invitation to dinner if you were not, was a considerable achievement.

What struck me on entering those hallowed portals was the time warp I seemed to have stepped into. Having recently seen White Mischief, that wonderfully satirical look at life in Kenya in the early forties, half expected to see Lord Broughton (Joss Ackland) sitting at a corner table, glaring balefully at Joss Hay (Charles Dance) as he danced suggestively with Lady Broughton, played by the delectable Greta Scacchi. Or the utterly surreal scene where they’re all cross dressed. There we have Charles Dance dressed up to look like a femme fatale and quite frankly, not really pulling it off, Joss Ackland dressed like (and also looking like) a frumpy dowager duchess, Sarah Miles dressed to kill, looking for all the world like an effeminate version of Jean-Paul Belmondo  in that dark 70’s crime drama Borsalino.

But rather than marvelling at the distinctly colonial atmosphere so reminiscent of the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi, I recalled the reason for the visit was to sample the chicken and prawn curry rumoured to be the best in the land, and as I recall, it was divine.

Now, I do a lamb curry which originates from one of Jamie Oliver’s recipe books (thanks, Jamie!), and it is absolutely delicious, because it uses no curry powder: not a drop (or is that grain?). After some thought, (actually, after quite CONSIDERABLE thought) I concluded that it was doable, using Jamie’s recipe as a base. Of course, I’d have to make a few changes and additions to make it work really well.

There are two principle components to the curry sauce: a curry paste and a herb and spice mix, or masala. These two combine to give the intense and delicious flavours which are so characteristic of true Indian cuisine.

Curry powder was an invention of the British during colonial rule of India. Wanting to take the flavour of India home, but without the tiresome business of carefully mixing herbs and spices, they invented curry powder. A generic, amorphous mixture of herbs and spices which brings heat to the dish without terribly much in the line of flavour, curry powder is not used in Indian cuisine. Instead, skilfully crafted blends of herbs and spices are created to provide an enormous range of flavours, and they are usually made fresh when needed.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation

1.5 kg (about 12) chicken thighs: trim any fat from the thighs and pat them dry.

400g peeled de-veined prawns: knock yourself out here. The bigger the better and if you want to increase the quantity, please feel free to do so. Do thaw them properly, and check them out carefully to make sure they are properly cleaned and de-veined. Rinse well under cold running water then set aside.

2 tbsp butter

2 x 400g cans of peeled and chopped tomatoes: preferably Italian plum tomatoes, chopped in the can with a pair of scissors.

300ml chicken stock

1 x 400 gm can coconut cream

1 bunch of fresh coriander: rinsed, leaves picked.

1 bunch of mint: rinsed, leaves picked.

1 tsp freshly ground coarse salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Juice of one or two limes (to taste): you could of course use bottled lime juice.

Canola oil (or similar) for frying

(Masala mix)

2 tbsp fennel seeds

2 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp coriander seeds

½ tbsp fenugreek (methi) seeds

½ tbsp black peppercorns

1 clove

½ a cinnamon stick (about 4 cm)

2 cardamom pods

1 tsp salt

1tsp freshly ground black pepper

Masala Mix: use whole seed for all of the required spices if you can. If not, use powders, but reduce the quantity 25% or so. For example, 1.5 tbsp of powder is about two tbsp of whole seeds. Measure all the masala ingredients into a small pan then toast them over a low heat. If they start to smoke, remove from the heat immediately, else you will spoil the masala. Once you can smell the fusion of aromas clearly they are done. Set aside to cool for a few minutes before grinding to a powder in a spice grinder, or a mortar and pestle.

(Curry paste)

5cm fresh ginger, peeled

2 large red onions, peeled

10 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 fresh red chillies, with seeds

1 bunch fresh coriander: rinse thoroughly and chop roughly.

Curry Paste: You may want to pick the leaves off the second bunch of coriander and set the leaves aside for later use, and add the stalks to the curry paste. Roughly chop all the paste ingredients and purèe them, together with the ground masala mix in a food processor.


Prepare your chicken stock as a first order of business.

Heat some canola oil (or similar) in a medium sized pan, and fry the chicken thighs until golden brown. Set them aside for now. Pour off any fat in the pan, and deglaze it with some of the chicken stock.

Heat the butter in a large, deep saucepan and fry the curry paste until golden, stirring regularly. Be sure it does not burn.

Add the chopped tomatoes, the juice from the pan, and the balance of the chicken stock and the salt and pepper. Turn up the heat, and bring the sauce to the boil, then cover tightly with a lid, and turn down to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so. This is an important step, since it intensifies the flavours of the curry sauce.

Add the chicken thighs and distribute them in the sauce, turn up the heat to bring to the boil, then turn down and set it to simmer stirring occasionally. This should take about 30 to 40 minutes. If the sauce is still rather thin, leave the lid off to allow it to thicken.

Add the prawns, and watch them like a hawk. The trouble with prawns is that they cook very quickly, and are inclined to become tough (read rubbery) rather sooner than one would expect!

As soon as they are cooked, about five to eight minutes, stir in the can of coconut cream, and heat through, squeeze in the juice of one or two limes to taste, then roughly chop the coriander and mint leaves and stir them gently into the sauce.

Serve immediately with steaming basmati rice.


This one is not that great the next day ….

Be aware, that if you serve as a left over the next day, the prawns tend to toughen if re-heated, so snack on the prawns before you refrigerate!

Categories: Food, Provenance
  1. January 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    thank you for this marvelous recipe
    Johan Botha

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