Pakistani Karhayi Prawns (Prawn masala)

a top view picture of prawn masala garnished with green chilies and ginger in a black wok, kept on top of a cream napkin against a light blue blackdrop

Whats in the name of a dish? Asks this spicy prawn masala to you? Well, there’s enough to create confusion. While this recipe is known as Prawn masala to the rest of the world, it is called Karhayi Prawns to us Pakistanis. Although “karhayi” is a type of wok in which something is cooked, but it is also a style of cooking.

Since most of the world identifies to ALL South Asian food as Indian, you’ve also probably heard of Prawn masala too. But never of Karahi Prawns.

Whether you call it prawn masala or Karhai Prawns is really your call, but whats more important is, that whatever you decide to call it, its still gonna be sitting there tasting DELICIOUSLY AWESOME! This recipe is uses most easily available eastern spices at home, a tomato yogurt based gravy and some nice prawns to go with. It is garnished like the regular chicken karhayi, with lots of whole green chilies and julienne cut ginger on top of it. And some cilantro because we put cilantro aka coriander on everything!

I was personally more of a Dynamite shrimps kinda girl, but this karahi has changed that part of me! And if you are a ONLY fried fish, and fried sea food kinda person, trust me , you need to give this a shot!

a side view of the prawn masala garnished with green chili and sliced ginger in a black wok against a light blue backdrop

Step by Step walk through of preparing the Prawn Masala aka Karhayi Prawns

Selecting and preparing the prawns/shrimps

You can select any size of prawns or shrimps to create this recipe. The cooking time will change slightly with the type of prawns you chose, that’s pretty much about it. Ideally, medium sized prawns/shrimps would work best with this recipe.

We are going to start with cleaning, de-veining and removing the tails of the shrimps/prawns. This crucial step is pretty time consuming. Move on to marination after you get this done. (or you know you could just buy the pre-cleaned and de-veined ones) Here’s a quick video to help you clean the prawns

Marinating prawns/shrimps

The marination is very simple, just some salt and turmeric. You can add garlic too if you are a garlic crazy person like me.

Note: The turmeric cancels out the pinkness of the prawns. The pink prawns looks quite appetizing in Western/Thai food etc, it looks off in a desi style gravy. You can apply this li’l hack to any South Asian recipe that uses prawns in them

shrimps marinated in turmeric and salt for prawn masala

You can marinate the prawns and keep them in the fridge for a while if you want to. Although I just simply marinate and cook immediately.

Cooking the prawns

Prawns, in general, cook very quickly and can easily go from just perfect to overdone in a matter of seconds. So cooking prawns perfectly is always key while making prawn recipes, especially for Pakistani or Indian food where cooking times are longer.

The prawns in this recipe are cooked in 2 parts. The first part of cooking happens right after they are marinated, and the 2nd part happens when they are added to the gravy. So you want to make sure that they aren’t over cooked.

Ideal prawn cooking times
  • For small prawns or shrimps is 3 to 4 mins,
  • Larger prawns or shrimps it is about 5 to 7 mins
  • Jumbo prawns it is 7 to 8 mins.

In the first part of cooking, we are only going to grill or fry the prawns for 1 to 2 mins in butter at high flame. Just to get rid of the smell and water that it might leach out. Its ok if you don’t dry it out the water completely. Just remove the prawns from heat within 2 mins. The remaining cooking of the prawns will complete in the gravy.

Set the grilled prawns aside and lets move on to our masala base.

Preparing the Prawn masala base

The masala base for this prawn karhayi is pretty basic. Its a tomato based gravy so it has lots of tomatoes and very little onion, and some yogurt in the end.

raw and chopped: tomatoes, garlic, green chilies, onions displayed out for prawn masala

Start off by adding ghee or butter in a wok. Add finely chopped garlic, onion and green chilies.

Note: Skip the green chilies in this step if you can’t tolerate spicy food.

The trio mixture is going to turn a golden brown color in about 4 to 5 mins. Once it gets there, we are going to chuck in our chopped tomatoes and spices with a little splash of water.

Tip: You can use canned tomatoes if you dont want to use whole ones.

Cover the wok and let the tomatoes simmer at low flame. Its important to keep the temperature low, as the salt will allow the tomatoes to soften up and disintegrate to form a smooth gravy base.

It may take longer than 15 mins for different varities of tomatoes. If after 20 mins, your tomatoes still seem a lil chunky, you can just put in an immersion blender/hand blender through the gravy to get to the smooth consistency.

Then we are going to add in our beaten yogurt, 3 whole green chilies and some garam masala powder. Mix it well and cover the wok with a lid for 5 mins.

Remove the lid, toss in the prawns and cover the lid. After covering the lid, the cooking time will depend on which type of prawns you are cooking with.

  • Small prawns – Cook for another 2 to 3 mins max
  • Larger prawns – Cook for another 3 to 4 mins max
  • Jumbo prawns – Cook for another 5 to 6 mins max
prawn masala in a black wok ready to be eaten

Usually with Pakistani or Indian curries and gravies, the sign of a properly cooked gravy is that the oil seperates from the gravy and comes on top. But since this one is made in ghee, you won’t see a lot of fat on top, just ever so slightly on the sides. Sprinkle some green chilies, ginger slits and chopped coriander on top of the prawn masala. The final touch is going to be some sprinkled chat masala.

prawn masala in a black wok, garnished with green chilies and sliced ginger placed on a skyblue backdrop

Serve with hot naan, chapati, roti, paratha or plain old zeera pulao rice.

Alternates, fixes and Remixes

  • You can used canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones.
  • You can use oil instead of ghee or butter if you prefer.
  • If your gravy turns out too spicy for you, add another 2 tbsp of yogurt and 1/2 tsp of brown sugar. That should balance out the spice.
  • If your dish is ready and you still want it to be more spicy, add crushed red chili pepper on top.
  • Sometimes the tomatoes that we are using may not be ripe or may not have that brilliant red color, which can effect the over all color of the gravy. You can use about 2 tsp of extra tomato paste if you feel like your gravy lacks that nice red luster.

How long can it survive?

You can keep it in the fridge for upto 4 days, provided that you reheat them at least once in between.

If your prawns weren’t frozen before, you can freeze this. Re-freezing prawns isn’t a good idea. Although if you do decide to freeze it, do it as soon as it is cooked and cooled down and don’t let it sit in the fridge. Consume within 3 months.

What can I do with left overs?

  • Layer with boiled rice, some food color and fried onions to make a quick prawn biryani ( you will have to add a bit more salt to the gravy to make this)
  • Toss in some boiled spaghetti to make a fusion style – prawn spaghetti. Top it off with Parmesan cheese.

Recipe for Prawn masala aka Karahi Prawns

a top view picture of prawn masala garnished with green chilies and ginger in a black wok, kept on top of a cream napkin against a light blue blackdrop

Shrimp Karhayi

A popular Pakistani restaurant style prawn curry, made with a tomato and yogurt base, seasoned with Indian/Pakistani spices
4.73 from 29 votes
Print Pin
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: South Asian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 207kcal
Author: Wajiha


  • 500 gm medium sized prawns de-veined and tail removed
  • 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 5 small green chilies finely sliced
  • 3 big green chilies slit open vertically or used whole
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala powder all spice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp beaten yogurt room temperature
  • 4 tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • Sliced ginger and chopped coriander for garnish
  • Chat masala for topping optional


  • In a bowl toss prawns with 1/2 tsp of salt and turmeric powder. Grill these prawns in butter at high flame for 1 min. (not more) and set aside in a bowl.
  • In a wok or frying pan, add 1 tbsp of ghee/butter and add onion, garlic and small green chilies. Fry them until they turn golden brown.
  • Add in chopped tomatoes along with salt, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder.
  • Mix and cover the wok/pan with a lid and reduce the flame to low. Allow the tomatoes to soften up. ( you can use an immersion blender if the tomatoes don’t soften up properly) It’ll take about 15 mins.
  • When the tomatoes have softened up to form a uniform curry base, add whole green chilies, yogurt and garam masala powder. Cook the masala for 5 mins.
  • Throw in the prawns and cover the wok. Cook for 4 mins max.
  • Turn off flame, sprinkle some chopped coriander, ginger strips, some more green chilies and some chat masala powder.
  • Serve hot with naan, chapati or paratha.


Serving: 1servingCalories: 207kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 19gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 178mgSodium: 1924mgPotassium: 546mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1475IUVitamin C: 19mgCalcium: 109mgIron: 1mg

Did you make this recipe?

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2 years ago

Thank you for sharing x

Mariam Sodawater
2 years ago

This looks delicious, I never though of making Karahi with prawns. I’ll
have to try this. Thanks for sharing! YUM.

Chiranjib Pradhan
2 years ago

Awesome recipe, my mouth is watering.

2 years ago

Another hit! I tried this recipe after trying your Masala moong masur daal recipe and this turned out super! Thanks so much 🙂
I was just confused over when to add the tomato paste as it is mentioned in the list of ingredients but not under instructions.

Neha Ahmed
Neha Ahmed
1 year ago

Hi! I absolutely love this recipe and I tried making it a few weeks back. My question is if I can use this base to make chicken karhayi because the masala base was the best part of this dish

6 months ago

When I made this, it turned out so amazing that my own grandma said “you’ve become a better cook than me now!”😢❤️

Thoughts? C'mon I'm not a mind reader, tell me!x
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