My dad loved to entertain and this would mean as theÂ weekend was approaching,mom would be spending most of her time brainstorming dinner menus. End of the week and the house would be choked with family and friends and even after doing it for several years,I loved the excitement in her gaitÂ onÂ saturday mornings when we strolled to the bazaar to getÂ groceries.There would be guests with both vegetarian and non vegetarian choices, not many with special diets but definitely all,secretly,looking forward to her deftly spiced dishes. Many fromÂ the near family would sometimes call ahead in the day with requests over the phone while others just warmed their hearts thinking of the surprise that she would bring to the table.Each time, she came up with such a fantastic menu, the array of dishes perfectly complementing each other, each course well thought, most of the food homemade and few not.
She did not choose to make elaborate,time-consuming dishes if the number of guests were many but quite aÂ variety so that everyone could spoon a favorite on their plate. All afternoon, the house smelled of few dozen or so of mutton koftassimmering inside theÂ aluminumÂ pot specifically reserved for cooking on such days of big meals, a show stopper as my dad would say, it was the main dish along side puffy rotis, then, there would be dishes made withÂ paneer ,a must on north indian entertaining menus,aÂ slow cookedÂ side of potatoes, another crowd pleaser, her cinnamon spiced red hued dum alooÂ and the signature rice pilaf, brought together withÂ ghee criped cumin seeds folded in fragrant basmati,thick, nuttyÂ dal tarka, tempered with ghee & scattered with cilantro and served with lemon wedges on side of the bowl.Â On few occasions, she would tend to a pot of boilingÂ kadhiÂ which by the way was a favorite of almost every aunt I know in the family,while quickly frying up ajwainÂ scentedÂ onionÂ pakoras on the side stove at the last moment so that the fritters remained crispy till the guests sat down to eat.
If it were winters, there would be fried seafood as starters,a winter tradition, a family favorite,when the fish season peaks in the bazaars, without a miss, fried,crispy pieces of rohu (fresh water carp)Â fish were served along with vinegar soaked onion ringsÂ and smoking hot green chutney.If my dad got a good deal, few kilos of white pomfret were slid into smoking mustard oil for guests. Quite in contrast to here, growing up, we consumed copious amounts of seafood during the colder months and that’s the reason I crave it every now and then. Every region in India has its own fish fry recipe, in the coastal areas of south india,fresh caught smaller fish are doused inÂ a paste of ground coconut and red chillies before deep-frying while in the eastern parts, in a lightlyÂ brit inspired ‘fish & chips’, they fry the marinated fish after a coating of egg and bread crumbs.
However, mum uses a batter which she tells is my maternal grandfather’s recipe.The marinated fish is coated in a garlic-ginger laced,turmeric hued marinade and then scantly coatedÂ in a mix of rice and besan (chickpea)Â flours.She fondly recollects that during her childhood, my grandfather used to soak the rice a night before and stone grind it the followingÂ day to coat the thick,belly pieces of rohu in it andÂ they would sit around the stove waiting in turn to get the piping hot fritter. If you happen to visit my home, mum makes fried fish the same way, she would soak the rice and hand grind it on sil-batta(stone grinder). I haveÂ adapted the recipe and use ready-made rice flour to make it quick and equally delicious.
Ingredients (Serves 2-3)
1 lb fish (I used 4 large tilapia bellyÂ piecesÂ cut into half or equivalent weight any small whole fish like pompano or pomfret)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1.5 tsp minced garlic
1Â tsp fresh minced ginger
3/4 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to tolerance)
1/4 tspÂ garam masalaÂ
1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp mustard oil
generous pinch of salt
3 tbsp rice flour
1/4Â besanÂ (chickpea flour)
1Â tspÂ chaat masala
salt to taste (to taste)
MustardÂ Oil for frying (substitute with any high smoky point oil)
1/2 tspÂ methi danaÂ (fenugreek seeds)
Clean and descale the fish pieces or ask your butcher to do it. Wash under a stream of water and pat them dry with a paper towel. In a flat dish, layer the pieces and add all the ingredients listed under marination. Rub everything with your hands to coat the fish and refrigerate for 1 hour.
15 minutes before ready to fry, take out the fish from the refrigerator and let sit on the kitchen counter. In a bowl, combine the rice flour,Â besanÂ andÂ chaat masala. Taste a pinch of this mixture before adding additional salt sinceÂ chaat masalaÂ is quite salty, then adjust the salt to taste.
Set 2 inches of mustard oil (or whichever oil your are using) in a heavy bottomed, wide pot orÂ skilletÂ (I use my 10″ cast iron) to heat up on medium flame.While the oil is heating, add the flour mixture to the marinated fish pieces.MixÂ with hands such that the flour sticks to the fish.Add a light splash of water if needed. We do not want a wet batter. WeÂ do not want a thick flour batter to coat the fish, instead just a uneven coating of flour on the fish (similar to coating chicken when deep frying).
Once the oil is hot, about 325 F, add fenugreek seeds to it.Let the seeds crackle.Gently set the coated fish pieces the into hot oil and fry for 3-4 Â minutes on each side until medium golden brown in color. (this time will be more in case you are using whole fish). Do not fry on very high or very low heat else the fish will get soggy or remain raw inside.
Drain on paper towel and when the fish is still hot, sprinkle moreÂ chaat masala.Â Discard the oil.
Serve immediately with onion slices and lemon wedges andÂ green chutneyÂ or any sauce of choice.
You could use whole small fish (like pomfret,golden pompano,trout, mackerel) or freshwater fish likeÂ rohu, katlaÂ (indian varieties) or boneless fish fillets ( cat fish, tilapia, cod, mahi-mahi) in this recipe. When using a whole fish, make incisions before you marinate.
Chaat MasalaÂ is a hot & tangy blend of spices which is easily available in indian/pakistaniÂ stores. If you do not have it, skip and add a little cayenne and crushed black pepper to the flour mix. You could squirtÂ lemon juice for tang once you have finished frying the fish.
Many times, I use the same recipeÂ to fry upÂ fillets andÂ stuffÂ them inside tortillas orÂ rotiÂ with coleslaw and serve as fish tacos.
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 Â 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 theÂ kadhai.
He sat behind the counter, fluffing thick, spicyÂ 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 masalaÂ and a lime wedge to squirt, the fried fish was better than the best I have ever had in my life.
1 lb minced lamb/beef/chicken (I use 80% lean)
2 medium potatoes, cubed
3 tbsp mustard oil (substitute with canola/vegetable)
1 bay leaf
3 green cardamom pods , cracked open
1 ” cinnamon stick
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2″ fresh ginger shoot, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp kashmiri chili powder (adjust to tolerance)
3 tbsp plain yogurt
salt to taste
To garnish – chopped cilantro
Coarsely grind together:-
1 tsp cumin seeds
1.5 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns (adjust to tolerance)
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
In a cooking pot with lid,on high, heat up the oil till you see ripples on the surface and it smokes slightly.
Reduce the heat to medium.Temper the oil with bay leaf ,cinnamon stick and green cardamom pods. Add the onions next.Cook the onions till they turn light brown.About 3-5 minutes.
Add the garlic & ginger next and saute for about 1 minute till you smell the aroma.
Next, add the coarsely ground spices to the pot.Toast the spices for another minute.
Add the chopped tomatoes next along with turmeric and red chilli powder.Cook for 3-5 minutes or till you see oil separating on sides of the pan.Add the potatoes next, mix together, reduce heat to low and cover the pot.Let cook covered for 8-10 minutes till the potatoes are almost 70% cooked. Remove the lid.
Turn heat to high and add minced lamb to the pot & and work it with a spoon for about 8-10 minutes on medium heat.The meat will start separating,changing color, sweating and becoming watery.Do not worry, everything is going as per plan.
Next, add yogurt, 1/4 cup water and salt to the pot. Mix well.Turn the heat to the lowest possible on your burner, cover the pot with lid and let simmer on low heat for about 22-28 minutes.You ll need to stir and check periodically to ensure that lamb is not sticking to the bottom. Add more water if needed
NoteÂ : The cooking time will vary if you are using beef or chicken. Also, do not add too much water at the beginning becauseÂ ground meats leave moisture as they cook.Add water at intervals as per the consistency you want.At the end of about 20 minutes of cooking you will see that oil separating from and change in color of the ground meat. Check that the potatoes are cooked through at this point.Â
Remove the lid,check the salt and cook on high again for 5 minutes till everything comes together.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm with flatbreads & salad.