A delicious prawn Karahi is my idea of a perfect weeknight dinner that requires minimal time and effort with absolutely no compromise on flavour. The appetising base of tomatoes, ginger, garlic and the aromatic garnish of coriander will have anyone swooning. This is a quick jhatt patt recipe that will have dinner on the table in less than half an hour!
Although a Prawn Karahi is typically not as common as it’s more popular cousins (i.e. Chicken Karahi, Lamb Karahi and Mutton Karahi), that in no way means it’s any less delicious in its own right!
What is a Karahi?
A Karahi refers to a deep wok-like dish used in the South of Asia, often made of heavy cast iron.
Though it refers to the name of the pan, it has also become synonymous with a particular type of curry – one with a tomato and ginger heavy base and emphasis on ginger, coriander and green chilli. It is characteristically garnished with julienne/matchstick cut slices of ginger. Karahi curries are popular in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What is a Prawn Karahi?
A Prawn Karahi curry is a seafood spin on the more classic and common chicken, lamb or mutton Karahi. Just like its aforementioned counterparts, it’s essentially a prawn curry cooked in a deliciously thick tomato, ginger and garlic gravy (masala). As per tradition, it’s usually served garnished with coriander, green chilli and julienne-cut slices of ginger.
Choosing the best prawns for a Karahi… or any curry!
Just like for chicken, fish and red meat, the best prawns are fresh, raw and ideally shell and tail on if you can handle it.
Why pick shell and tail on prawns? Because the shells and tails pack in a flavourful, juicy oomph into your dish, helps the prawns retain some moisture and an added bonus is they’re cheaper! You can keep the shells and tails to the side and make a meeeean broth out of them afterwards too *winning*.
Of course, understandably not everyone can or will want to deal with shells and tails! I’ve actually used de-shelled prawns here just because that’s all I could access at this time. My personal preference is forever and always shell on though!
Understandably, you may not have access to fresh prawns either or may simply not want the hassle of dealing with raw prawns. If you do have to buy pre-cooked prawns, I’d recommend jumbo king prawns as your first option.
However I really have to say, there is an undeniably major difference in the taste of precooked and raw prawns. In an ideal world, we’d never have to use pre-cooked prawns for curries (or anything, really). Pre-cooked prawns are often rubbery, overcooked and have limited ability to absorb flavour.
Think about it – would you ever make a chicken curry with boiled chicken?
For a fantastic and more in-depth article about selecting the best prawns, click here!
Also, don’t forget to de-vein your prawns if they are not already done so. The black vein running down the back of some raw prawns is the intestinal tract and for aesthetic purposes it’s best to remove it.This is a bit of a labourious, boring task so I avoid getting prawns which aren’t already de-veined.
Does a Karahi use onions and/or yoghurt?
So I did a poll to see whether my Instagram followers use onions or yoghurt when cooking their Karahis… and I discovered approximately 75% of my followers do.
I found this really interesting because I have always been taught that Karahis should never be cooked with onions! It is the defining aspect of Karahis that the masala is exclusively tomato-based.
The general base or masala of a Karahi is traditionally only tomatoes and heavy on ginger and garlic. My Father is an absolute master at cooking brilliant Karahis and I’ve had my fair share of brilliant home-cooked Karahis, so I’ve become a bit of a Karahi purist when it comes to onions and yoghurt. Therefore the recipe I’m sharing is also a tomato, ginger and garlic masala only.
Karahis have been adapted to include onions and yogurt for a variety of different reasons. Some reasons include wanting to bulk up the masala with onions and/or yoghurt because they are cheaper than tomatoes (Have you heard about how expensive tomatoes have gotten in Pakistan?!), personal preference, and because that’s just how people have always made a Karahi and grown to like them!
There’s no Karahi police that’s gonna be hunting anyone down for using onions or yoghurt (that would be quite scary because my Keema Karahi recipe from before I was a Karahi purist also uses onions). With cooking there are no hard and fast rules. I’m sticking to the authentic base because that’s just what I prefer and I think you’ll also enjoy it too!
8 tips to elevate your Prawn Karahi
- To really optimise this curry and get the best out of it, you will need to use more oil than for a standard curry. The masala for the base is very thick thanks to the tomatoes, therefore we will naturally need more oil to ‘cut’ into it and get that elusive oil separation at the edges which is characteristic of a good, well-made curry.
2. Where possible, use the best quality prawns you can find. This has a huge impact on the flavour of your dish
3. Always opt for fresh garlic and ginger. Fresh is absolutely incomparable to the stuff you get in jars.
4. You definitely don’t want to overcook the prawns. Overcooked, rubbery, dry prawns are just a sad sad sight and no one should have to see them let alone eat them. 5 minutes total cook time is more than enough for raw prawns. Pre-cooked prawns need even less than that.
5. Load up on the coriander! And as always, try to get your hands on fresh coriander
6. As a general rule, try to get everything fresh here
7. Keep in mind that the longer the green chilis sit in the curry, the more of a chance they get to infuse their spice into the curry. If you don’t want a super hot curry, don’t add in the green chilis until serving time.
8. A prawn Karahi is absolutely perfect served with a zesty salad with some red onions (to balance out the lack of onions in the curry) and some naan. Yum!
On to the recipe! If you recreate this recipe, I’d love to see a picture! You can tag me in your cooks on Instagram @fatima.cooks!
Enjoy, with love x
- 0.5 cup oil or ghee
- 2 heaped tbsp minced garlic, preferably fresh
- 2 heaped tbsp minced ginger, preferably fresh
- 500g tomatoes (fresh or tinned), pureed in a blender
- 450g raw prawns (250g if using precooked prawns)
- 4 fresh green chillis, halved
- 1.5 tsp salt, or to taste
- 3 tsp paprika or Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 0.5 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 0.5 tsp kalonji (black seeds)
- 0.75 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- Half a bunch chopped coriander
- 2 green chillis, quartered
- Fresh ginger cut into matchstick slices, as much as desired
- 1tsp kalonji (black seeds)
- Heat the oil in a pan, wok or pot. Once the oil is hot, flash fry the prawns for one minute. Set aside
- In the same oil, add in the minced ginger and garlic and fry for 2 minutes
- Add all the spices and green chillis. Fry for a minute
- Add the tomatoes. Cook this on high heat, stirring. Allow this to cook for 5-10 minutes, until the gravy is thick and you can see oil separating around the edge of the pan. You'll also see a lot of holes bubbling in the gravy. This is ideal!
- Once the gravy is ready, add back the prawns and continue to cook this on high for a further 5 minutes (7-8 minutes for jumbo prawns)
- Your prawn karahi is ready! Garnish with freshly chopped coriander, matchstick-cut ginger, kalonji seeds and green chillis.
If you don't intend to serve your prawn karahi immediately, do not add in the garnishes. Garnishes should be added just before serving.
Please keep in mind, the longer the green chillis sit in the curry the longer they will have to infuse their heat into the masala. If you do not want a super hot curry, do not allow the green chillis to infuse for long or reduce the number of green chillis added
I have used paprika/Kashmiri red chilli powder due to its vibrant colour and mild flavour. The green chillis should do the job of adding heat to the curry. If you feel it isn't hot enough for you, feel free to increase the red chili powder in the curry.