The pungent smell of the mustard oil was engrained in the walls of the shop.Over the years, a gleaming fluorescent tube had replaced the flickering bulb above the rusty shutter and a bunch of green chilies & lemon needled in a thread hung below it,the same way as it did years back, grabbing your attention more due to its location even though tactfully situated to be hidden.Its the same dusty clock at the center of the column that I saw years back, looks like no one cared to wipe it, I told myself, waiting.
It was biting cold outside but the inside was surprisingly warm,for it was cramped with people who wanted that crispy fillet, one that just popped out of the bubbling oil in the kadhai.
He sat behind the counter, fluffing thick, spicy besan batter, side by side keeping an eye on the smoky oil and dealing with customers, all at the same time.He looked a lot older than what I could remember. The hair had turned grey and the skin was tanned sitting in oily vapor for years. You could not help but notice the facial expressions which also remained the same – calm & peaceful. Few things are best if they don’t change, I told myself again.
If you ask him the recipe, he would just smile. Maybe he didn’t have any, it was just the magic of hands. This is the taste of fish which stays with you for days – you want to go back and have some more and then more. The kind you want to talk about, spread around the word about and write stories about.
Saying that the fried fish he made sold like hot pancakes would be an understatement. He ran out of the stuff within an hour or so of starting the trade.Wrapped in soiled pieces of newspaper, topped with thin onions rings seasoned with a generous dash of chaat masala and a lime wedge to squirt, the fried fish was better than the best I have ever had in my life.
Tawa translates to a skillet or heavy metal pan in Hindi and macchi is fish. Many regions in India have a version of pan or skillet fried fish, varying in the spices that coat the fish. While you will find coconut & tamarind in the southern & western states, in eastern states its the yellow mustard paste which is commonly used.I have the recipe which is more of north indian/amritsari/punjabi style. Lots of ginger, dried fenugreek leaves & garlic in the is what makes this recipe scrumptious, not to mention how mustard oil for frying is a must (well almost)!
An excellent crispy fish which can be served as an appetizer or main dish, serve up with green chutney or salad of choice.
You could make the ‘masala‘ from the recipe below and use it over any kind of fish you like.The recipe makes about 3/4 cup of the paste. I suggest not using a very watery fish else it will not crisp up. Instead of pan frying, you could deep fry or bake the fish.Whole pomfret or red snapper,round – belly fish steaks etc are good choices.
- 2-3 fish fillets ( I used 3 mahi mahi fillets which weighed 1.2 lb total)
- 1.5 tbsp fresh lime juice
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup fine semolina (to coat for pan frying,depends on the size of fillets)
- Mustard oil for pan frying (as required)
- Chaat Masala ( to taste, optional)
- Chopped Cilantro, lime wedges for serving
For the Masala (Spicy Coating)
- 1 tbsp mustard oil (or any oil of choice)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 fat garlic cloves
- 2″ fresh ginger shoot, chopped *
- 2-3 Thai green chillies (adjust to taste)
- 3/4 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 heaping tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)
- salt to taste
*The masala is quite gingery because I like it that way. You could adjust the ginger quantity as per your taste.
Using a paper towel, pat the fish fillets dry. Place them in a plate, squirt fresh lemon juice over the fillets, sprinkle salt and rub them with turmeric powder. Set aside for 20-25 mins.
Meanwhile heat up 1 tbsp mustard oil in a pan on medium heat , add chopped onions, garlic & ginger to it. Saute till the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes or so. Add the coriander seeds,turmeric, green chillies and kasuri methi to the pan and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Let the mixture cool a little bit and tip it into a blender. Add cilantro, besan & salt to taste and blend to a smooth masala (paste). Avoid adding water, you could add a little bit of lime juice if needed.
Rub this masala on the fish fillets. Place semolina in a wide plate and season with a generous pinch of salt.
In a heavy bottomed pan/skillet (I use my cast iron), heat up mustard oil on medium. Nicely coat both sides of the marinated fish fillets with semolina. Pan-fry the fillets on low- medium heat turning both sides so that the crust is crisp and the fish is done. If you have a thick fish fillet you can finish it off in the oven. As soon as the fish is done, sprinkle chaat masala on the fillets.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with sautéed vegetables (like I did) or with some steamed rice.
Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!