“What on earth is poudre de Colombo!?”

The book:  World Spice at Home by Amanda Bevill and Julie Kramis Hearne (Sasquatch Books, $24.95 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Skillet prawns* with “poudre de Colombo”
*but go ahead and use big shrimp, because what’s the difference?!

Why I tried itThis was one of those serendipitous finds that turned up during recipe-testing.  I loved exploring the different spice mixes in this book, which allowed me to make full use of my Devastatingly Awesome Spice System.  But this night I was in a bit of a hurry and between the relatively quick spice mix (only 8 ingredients!) and the quick-cooking shrimp, I figured I could close the deal in 45 minutes max.

Why I loved it:  I doubt Columbus himself ever tasted it, but poudre de Colombo is a jewel of a seasoning from the French West Indies (proving that good things can come from disastrous colonial events).  It’s a warm, dusty mild curry; its hardest-to-get component is fenugreek, and its most unexpected one is raw rice.  Once the seasoning hits the warm butter, it’s magic – a huge, woodsy-spice-chest aroma blossoms into the air.  And then – between their own natural pigment and the turmeric – the shrimp turn a fiery coral, and you end up using them as daubs to scrape up any spice residue left in the corners of the pan.

Estimated preparation time:  45 minutes; but if your shrimp are already de-veined and shelled and you’ve made up the spice mix or bought it in advance, you could do it in 30 minutes flat.

Another great recipe from this book: Amanda’s cumin-crusted cornbread: here are the ingredients, but you’ll have to buy the book for the recipe!


Skillet Prawns (Shrimp!) with Poudre de Colombo
Serves 4
If you can get true prawns, great! If not, use biggish shrimp (say, at least 21/25’s).  If you can only get small-to-medium shrimp, work as quickly as you can at the end so they don’t overcook.

For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons butter
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, halved, and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon Pernod, or 1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seed, smashed

For the shrimp/prawns:
2 teaspoons ground poudre de Colombo (see below for recipe)
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium prawns (about 18-24), peeled and deveined, tails intact
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

To prepare the vegetables, in a 12-inch stainless steel skillet, melt the butter. Add the fennel and onion and cook for 4 minutes, flip, and cook for 4 minutes more. Add the chicken broth and Pernod; cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the onion is soft.

Uncover and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated and the fennel and onion begin to brown. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, to prepare the prawns, in a small bowl, mix together the poudre de Colombo, paprika, lemon zest, thyme, sugar, and salt. In a 10- to 12-inch skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the spice mixture and the prawns and cook for 2 to 3 minutes; flip over and cook for 2 minutes more.

Rewarm the fennel mixture over medium-low heat. Spoon one-quarter of the mixture onto each plate and top with 4 to 5 prawns. Sprinkle over the lemon juice, garnish with the parsley, and serve.

Can’t be bothered with grinding your own spices? Here’s where to buy poudre de Colombo.  Making your own poudre de Colombo? Good on you!  Here’s the recipe.

1 whole clove
Scant ½ teaspoon cumin seed
¼ teaspoon coriander seed
Scant ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
Scant ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seed
⅛ teaspoon black mustard seed
Scant ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Scant ½ teaspoon uncooked rice

1. In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the clove, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, fenugreek, and mustard seed, shaking the pan, for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle the turmeric over the warm spices.

2. In the same skillet, toast the rice for 2 minutes, shaking the pan. Add it to the other spices while hot (the heat from the spices and rice lightly toasts the turmeric). In a spice grinder, grind the mixture to a powder.