Shit Just Got Real: Prawn Tikka Masala

It was well before dawn as we pull up anchor. The sky still cast a dark heavenly blue that slips into the clear diamond waters below, leaving no vestige of a horizon, only a vast sea of twilight. We sail out of Bahia Frailes with ample time to arrive in La Paz, well before the big blow about to storm in. Of course, nothing goes as planned when cruising around the world. We escape the Bahia, just as the transmission starts sounding something awful. A high-pitched squealing buzz bursts from the engine, but only while in gear. We start messing around in the engine compartment, only to discover the magical disappearance of all the transmission fuel. We were quick to get on the radio. Although the Baja Ha Ha has concluded, the fleet remains close byt. Many of our fellow sailors follow the same path,  working through the same wind, weather and tides. At least three boats radioed back, checking to see if they had any transmission fluid they could lend us. No luck. So, we sail into the nearest marina. Another boater hears of our problem and offers to drive us into town to pick up some more fluid. We get back, fill her up and keep on motoring (we’re motoring because the wind is directly on our nose and it is too difficult and slow to sail).

After about an hour of motoring, that same awful sounds begins to plague our soundscape once again. I mean, running the engine sounds bad enough, but this was just truly awful. We dive back into the engine, pulling out the manual to try and diagnose the possible problem. We check our impeller and it is basically destroyed. The impeller, if I’m not mistaken, is a little piece of our engine that pumps raw (sea) water through the engine to keep it cool. Rubber impellers pass twigs and pebbles and small pilchards, but stop the flow of water to them as they shed blades like leaves in an October storm. So they need to be checked regularly. Keeping a scheduled check on the impeller, transmission fluid, racor filter and oil is some of the best preventative maintenance for your boat’s engine.

After replacing the impeller, we added more transmission fluid and started it up again. No dice. Again, the fluid spilled out somewhere in the engine compartment all over the bilge, but this time the transmission was full of this nasty brown sludge. Since our impeller looks like it had been needed a change for sometime, my father assumes that the heat exchange in the transmission crapped out on us. In other words, we were pretty much screwed. Here we are, facing a big blow, wind coming in directly over our bow. We basically had to just sail. I mean, I get that sailing is sort of the point of a sailboat. Here’s the problem. We had forty miles to go to get to La Paz. Normally, that is totally doable in a single day, but if the wind in coming right in front of where you need to go, you have to zigzag all over the place. Our boat can only sail well into the wind at a 45 degree angle, sometimes we can push it to 30 degrees but its tough. So, when we zigzag (or tack is the proper term), we do so at an angle of 60-90 degrees. So even is we’re traveling at a speed over ground of six knots, our velocity made good (our speed towards our destination) is really only about one knot. So all of a sudden, those forty miles are looking like we’re going to be coming into La Paz right during the storm.

So after the first night of just drifting at sea, we turned around and sailed directly up wind all day through the narrow 25 mile long channel going basically one nautical mile per hour. This channel, Canal Cerralvo, is also known for being rather dangerous. With currents that can carry your boat roughly two and a half knots an hour, and only four miles of water between reefs and rocks. This is a path you really only want to attempt during the daytime. So we get through this channel only to face another dangerous channel, Canal de San Lorenzo, with currents that can carry the boat three nautical miles per hour. Also, this channel is one of the main shipping channels to Mazatlan, so there will be big tankers and ferries flying through at any given point of time. The thing about those huge boats is that they move wicked fast and have very poor steerage. So if you see one coming, it’s your job to get out of the way and fast. Again, we arrive at this channel just before dark. No way are we going in. So, instead now we’re already exhausted and facing another night of drifting. Only this time, we’re between two areas of land and blowing around like a little rubber ducky with a two year old splashing around in the bathtub. During my drift watch at night, I saw winds blow to 35 knots. That is basically gale force winds. I needed comfort food. Indian food is one of my favorite comfort food. The spices that feel as though they warm your soul, the high fat content, its just delicious. This is one of my favorite recipes for Prawn Tikka Masala ( One of the ingredients in Makhani Masala, which you make whenever you have access to a plethora of Indian ingredients then you stick in your freezer for later use. Enjoy!

Prawn Tikka Masala

Ingredients: (Serves 2-4)


1/2 lb large prawns (I had about 6-8 extra large/king sized prawns)


For marinade:

a sprinkle of salt

2 teaspoon ginger paste (or grated fresh ginger)

1 teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to taste)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon garam masala

1.5 teaspoon oil


For the sauce:

2- 2.5 tablespoon oil

about 8-10 methi/fenugreek seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 cup packed (8 oz cup), sliced onion in thin half moon

2 large tomatoes, grated (about 3/4 cup of an 8 oz cup)

1.5 tablespoon julienned ginger (use young ginger without too much fiber)

1 green chili pepper, slit

6 heaped tablespoon makhani masala* (without dairy)

1/4 cup cream + 3/4 cup skim milk or water

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (Optional)

salt to taste

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder (optional)

2 teaspoons kasoori methi/dried methi leaves lightly toasted on the skillet


*Note:  You can make this Makhani Masala ahead of time and freeze.

All spices available in Indian Store or online. See list of spices here and other resources to buy them.




De-vein and shell prawns. You may leave the tail on. Pat dry. Toss with all ingredients of the marinade except the oil. Let sit for about 15 – 30 minutes.

Add the 1.5 teaspoons of oil in a pan and quickly cook the marinated shrimp, for a few minutes only until they curl and is no more transparent/translucent. Set aside.


Add the rest of the oil to the pan. Add the methi/fenugreek, the cumin seeds and the slit green chili peppers.  When the spices sizzle add the sliced onions and cook them in medium heat until they soften and become translucent. Add the tomatoes, and the julienned ginger. Cook until the tomato has reduced and is rid of all raw taste. The oil should be separating on the sides of the pan at this point. Now add the Makhani Masala , the red chili powder if you are using, kasoori methi and the garam masala. Stir everything in and lower the heat. Cover and cook for about 2-5 minutes until the spice mix has blended well.

Uncover and stir and toss. Adjust salt. Add the cooked prawns to the pan, and the bell peppers if you are using them and toss well for the spice mix to coat the prawns. Cook for only a couple or more minutes. Lower heat and add the cream and the milk. Let it come to a simmer. Toss a few times and remove from heat right away. Finish with more toasted kasoori methi if you wish.

Makhani Masala/Butter based Tomato Cream Sauce


Ingredients: (yields about  3 cups)

1/4 cup ginger paste

3tablespoon garlic paste

2 inch stick of cinnamon

2 black cardamoms

2 small green cardamoms

1 teaspoon fenugreek/methi seeds (This is a MUST)

1 tablespoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves; Available in Indian Groceries)

5  cups pureed fresh tomato (or about 1/2 the amount of tomato paste) – it is okay to use more tomato

1 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

Salt to taste

3 hot green peppers slit (optional)

1/4 cup melted butter/ghee (I substitute it with cooking oil for obvious health reasons)

1/2 cup heavy cream/whipping cream

1/2 cup milk



Heat butter/ghee/oil  & add cinnamon, cardamoms and fenugreek seeds.

Once the seeds start to sizzle, add ginger garlic paste, salt, chili powder and stir and fry till fat (butter) separates, and starts to form small bubbles.

Add tomato paste, green chili, cinnamon powder and kasuri methi (Mix the tomato paste with double the amount of water to make it like a puree of use Tomato Puree).

Cook/simmer and reduce the tomato sauce, till done. (you will know which the fat/ and the spice mix/masala leaves the sides of the pan and the oil separates and you will definitely smell it!). Make sure to cover the pan as the sauce will bubble and splatter.

(At this stage the sauce can be frozen for later use. If you are cooking anything with the sauce right away, go ahead and add the cream and milk.)

Add heavy cream and milk. Boil/simmer for about 10 minutes.

After the sauce is done, proceed to cook whatever dish you have decided.

*Note: If you want a smooth creamy sauce, blend the cooked sauce in a blender (spices and all) to make a smooth puree. 

The masala/sauce can be frozen in airtight containers for quite a few months. BUT if you want to freeze it, DO NOT add the cream and the milk. Add the cream and the milk when you want to use it to prepare the final dish.



Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2-4

Difficulty Level: Medium



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s