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 lends this quick recipe the right amount of tart, acidic 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.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
For the Sauce
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.
Grind mustard and nigella seeds to a powder (not very fine) using your coffee grinder. In a small bowl, mix with garlic, turmeric , 1/2 tsp mustard oil and red chili powder. Add 2 tbsp water to make a paste. Refrigerate this paste along with fish for 2 hours. (do not skip this refrigeration part)
After 2 hours, take out the fish and mustard paste from the refrigerator and set on the kitchen counter.
In a wide, non stick pan, heat up the 1 tsp oil on medium. Layer the marinated fish steaks on the pan and sear both the sides of the steak.About 2 minutes on each side (this time will depend on the variety and thickness of your fish). Put the stove off and let sit.
Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed pan/kadhai, pour the 3 tbsp mustard oil and heat it on medium till you see ripples on the surface.Reduce the heat to low, wait for a minute and temper the oil with fenugreek seeds. Sauté for 20 seconds till you smell the aroma. Next, reduce heat to low and very carefully add the ground mustard paste. While adding to hot oil, the paste will splutter a lot so be careful.Cook the paste on low heat for 2-3 minutes till you see oil starting to separate on sides of the pan. Add the salt, tomatoes puree and mix well.Let cook on low heat,or about 10-12 minutes, stirring in between so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook the paste till you see oil separating on the sides of the pan as well as it changing color to deep reddish-yellow. Make sure that all the water has evaporated and the masala is thick and shiny. Again, as the tomatoes cook,they splutters a lot, be careful.
Once the paste has cooked, add the water, green chillies, cilantro,check the salt and bring to a boil on medium low heat. Once boiling,add the pan fried fish along with the drippings in the pan if any. Also add the sugar. Cover and let cook for about 5-8 minutes. (this time will depend on the variety and thickness of your fish, cook till the fish is done)
Remove from heat, and let sit for at least an hour before serving. Serve warm with steamed rice. You could squirt some lemon juice at the end if you like.