Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

Mustard shrimp

aka Jhinga Bhappa

I’ve had so many requests for this recipe that I’d better put it up as my first entry in this category. Once again to avoid plagiarism and give credit where it’s due, I first got the idea for this recipe from one of Madhur Jaffrey’s many cookbooks. Of course when I went to make it, I was working from memory, and in the years since, have made it often and always to requests for encores and instructions for “Neeraja’s” mustard shrimp – even from some of Bengali friends. Now that’s high praise!

The main ingredient for this recipe is obviously shrimp, lots of it – shelled and deveined and uncooked if possible (fresh or frozen), but whole unshelled ones are fine if your guests are willing to work a little. The frozen precooked ones are least desirable, but will do in a pinch. Mustard, the other main ingredient, is a triple threat for this to work the best, although two out of three will be good too. The three forms are:

Whole mustard seeds (black/brown or yellow or a mixture) — several teaspoons full,

Mustard powder – just pulverize a few teaspoons in a coffee grinder, a few minutes before using.

Mustard oil – available at most Indian grocery stores, and very rarely elsewhere (sometimes in certain Asian groceries). Don’t worry about the label that variously warns you that the oil is “for external use only” or better still, “for massage only.” Apparently this label is a regulatory requirement for export purposes. The oil is the same one used in India for pickles and cooking. This ingredient makes all the difference, for it delivers a wasabi-like kick that cannot be duplicated by any other oil.

Mix together the mustard seeds, mustard powder (you can monitor the kick value of this dish by adjusting this ingredient and the oil), salt, turmeric, one small onion very finely chopped, and cayenne powder and chopped green chillies (according to taste) in a bowl. Mix in some mustard oil (depending on how much you have you can mix it with some good quality olive oil) and marinate the shrimp in this mixture for a few hours in the refrigerator. You can either steam the whole bowl by lowering into a deep pot of boiling water, or steam in a bamboo or metal steaming apparatus (I prefer the former personally because you don’t loose all the good stuff). Once the shrimp is done serve it piping hot topped with a splash of the raw mustard oil on top, along with mounds of rice (preferably basmati).

Actually an even higher compliment to this dish is that fact that Appa (my darling Dad) — hard core vegetarian that he is — likes to brag about it. Mostly this praise comes from his having witnessed the unquestioning faith Chris showed in me. Chris, along with Art (his then brand-new love) and Dad had gone shopping for our first New Year’s bash at Livingston street (1999). At the seafood counter, my Dad being prudent, wondered about the amount and the cost of the shrimp they were buying and they just looked at him and said (and I quote) “But Neeraja asked for it!” And that was that. Later he was also witness to the fact that the shrimp never made it to the table, with Seetha, Shish and others demolishing each batch en route from steamer to dining room.

There are many other stories associated with these shrrimp, including the time one very hot summer’s evening when we discovered what a great thing these morsels were in combination will chilled margaritas (or beers for those who like that). Etienne is another gourmand friend to whom I introduced this yummy dish. And finally, once again, I must mention Jane in Eau Claire, for whose especial sake I’m hurrying to publish this recipe since I want her to have it while the summer is still hot and she and Ron can enjoy these in their lovely garden by the river with their martinis (or white wines or beers) after Jane emerges from a swim in the river, maybe joined by little Natasha (who would have surely gone swimming too) and her parents, Mohan and Rama.

So… by a pool or a river with chilled drinks, a tan to match the shrimp, and you’ll all be as happy as clams. Alternatively, eating this piping hot when its freezing outdoor works well too. Remember New Year’s 1999. Tequila shots or the like might go better in that case. Bon appetit, all!

P.S. I should also mention one more thing – for those of you who enjoy oysters but can only get them frozen, this mix works well on them as well.


  Radha wrote @

Oh man – I’m salivating just reading this… The memories – oh the memories. I also remember some exceptional rum balls that we enjoyed right after the shrimp!!! slurrrrp.

  sankablog wrote @

Thanks for adding the rumball memories Radha — they’re from the same New Year’s party. I”ll try to get Chris to contribute that recipe soon.

  foodesqueblog wrote @

Hey Neeraja

So lovely to see you again!
Oh my goodness!
The best ever Shrimp I have ever ever had!
Thank you so much for the truly mouthwatering dinner you cooked last night!
Everything was so delicious!
Liza xxx

  sankablog wrote @

Lovely to see you again too Liza. Here’s hoping we’ll have more such opportunities.

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