Over the years, I have changed this recipe a lot from how mom used to make it. When one of our neighbors gave it to her some 8-9 years back, in the most unexpected way we embraced it in our cooking and more so instantly loved it just because it broke the monotony of the ‘only’ fish curry that we had been eating all the while.
In India a lot of exchange of food and gossip happens with neighbors.This aunty (as we fondly call anybody other than family back there),her house eternally smelled of cakes and good food but this recipe is one of the best things that she shared with us. She churned the tomatoes with nigella and mustard seeds to the point that they become almost velvety. Instantly, the blend hit the hot, virgin mustard oil, a loud sizzle, and boom, the sharp aroma choked up all your senses along with the piquancy of turmeric and fenugreek.Then the masala (spice paste) got slow fried for a good half and hour till it got brown and caramelized. The crisp, deep-fried fish steaks from the other side of on the stove stove finally met the party along with few cups of water and slit green chilies. The soup then simmered for another half and hour and rested till meal time. That light tart, soupy sauce ladled over steaming rice was all you could ask for on hot summer evenings.
I remember how growing up we would not eat much of seafood from April to August since these summer months were categorized as the breeding season, quite contrary to here in the States when essentially seafood is labelled as ‘summer foods. A couple of weeks back I visited our asian seafood store after a gap of year or so and could not help but gorge on the vast choices available – crabs, shellfish, live lobster and what not. I really can’t tell you why this place is one of my favorite,the fact that I can get the freshest black pomfret and indian mackerel here – cut and cleaned ‘my’ way or because of the produce which I do not find in my regular grocery store – taro root, banana leaves, bitter melon squash. Not to forget – fresh jackfruit and lychees!
I bought home fresh tilapia thinking about this curry all the way. With the temperature hitting over 110 degrees F in my part of the world as the Independence day approaches, I could not think of an easy and light meal than this one.
You might try to find an east indian influence in the recipe but sadly it will disappoint you. The use of tomatoes and garam masala lend this quick recipe the right amount of tart, acidic and smoky profile to balance the piquancy of mustard and nigella. I do not deep fry the fish even though that is how it should be done. Also I add a little bit of garlic because the sauce tastes better than without.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
- 1 lb fish ( 4-5 steaks,I used tilapia)
- 1 tsp virgin mustard oil
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp oil
For the Sauce
- 1.5 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp nigella seeds
- 3 garlic cloves,minced
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp virgin mustard oil
- 1/4 tsp red chili powder
- 2 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp virgin mustard oil
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 cup fresh tomato puree
- 2 green chillies, slit open (adjust to tolerance)
- 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- Salt to taste
- 1/8 tsp sugar
- 1 – 1.5 cup water (depending on the sauce consistency you desire)
- The sauce from this recipe has a pronounced mustard taste and a bitter end note. We like it this way. However, you can reduce the mustard quantity to not less than 3/4 tsp for a mild flavor.
- I used fresh roma tomatoes in this recipe so didn’t feel the need to add any souring agent (like lemon juice or amchoor /dry mango powder), you could add them at the end of cooking if you feel that the sauce needs some tart.
- Mustard oil is traditionally used in for the curry and it enhances the taste of the sauce. I cannot suggest a substitute but you can use any neutral oil.The curry will taste different though.
Clean the fish. Pat dry with a paper towel and rub with 1 tsp mustard oil and turmeric. Set in the refrigerator for 2 hours.