Sensational seafood

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SHERYL DIXIT takes fish around the country and cooks it for you in six different ways

While India is blessed with many unique forms of cuisine, it is renowned for the plethora of seafood that graces our tables. Thanks to a vast coastline that flanks two sides of the subcontinent and its numerous rivers and lakes teeming with marine life, seafood features in the cuisine of nearly every state. Lovers of seafood can explore curries from the exotic north to the mysterious east, conservative west and traditional south, from the comfort of their kitchens.

Barring a couple, all these recipes take an effort to prepare, but the effort is well worth it. So try these varied fish flavours from India, and journey on a trip of culinary discovery.

Amritsari fish

A delicious accompaniment to warm one up on cold days, this traditional Punjabi dish has now gone global

600 gms king fish (surmai) fillets

1 tbsp chilli powder

1 tsp carom seeds (ajwain)

2 tbsp ginger paste

2 tbsp garlic paste

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 cup gram flour (besan)

1 egg

Salt to taste

Oil for frying

1 tsp chaat masala

2 lemons, cut into wedges

 

Wash the fillets and gently place in a mixing bowl. Add red chilli powder, salt, carom seeds, ginger paste, garlic paste, lemon juice, gram flour and mix well. Set aside. Heat oil in a kadhai for deep frying. Break an egg into the fish mixture and mix. Place the fillets, one at a time into the hot oil and deep fry till almost done. Drain and place on an absorbent paper. Deep fry again just before serving, till golden and crisp. Drain and place on an absorbent paper. Serve hot, sprinkled with chaat masala and lemon wedges.

 

Goan Prawn Balchao

Although this recipe takes a while to prepare, its final result can be pickled and enjoyed for months. If you don’t eat it all up within a couple of days, that is!

½ kg headless prawns, deveined, shelled and cleaned

4 tomatoes, finely chopped

2 green chillies, chopped

8 curry leaves

4 medium onions, finely chopped

4 tbsp oil

Sugar, salt and vinegar to taste

For the paste

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

2 dry red chillies

1 tbsp vinegar

½ tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1 tsp black peppercorns

 

Take a pinch of turmeric powder with some salt and rub into the cleaned prawns. Leave aside for five minutes. Next, wash the prawns well and drain. Grind together the ingredients for the paste into a fine mixture and keep aside. Next, heat oil in a large kadhai or frying pan and add in the curry leaves. Add finely chopped onions and fry on medium heat until the onions are soft and light brown. Add chopped tomatoes and saute till the oil separates from the mix. Now add the prawns and paste and fry briefly. Stir occasionally. Add the green chillies, sugar, salt and vinegar to taste. Mix well. Cover and simmer on low flame for about ten minutes, until prawns are well-cooked. Cool and serve as an accompaniment to a main meal or simply spread on a slice of bread and enjoy.

 

Note: To preserve for longer, add more vinegar; to add a touch of sweetness, add sugar. Add salt based on your taste.

 

Parsi Patra Ni Machchi

My personal favourite, and a dish served at traditional Parsi weddings. This dish is delicious as it is baked/steamed and wrapped in a banana leaf to preserve the flavours. A must-try for foodies!

6 thick white fish fillets

1 fresh coconut finely grated (approx. 3 cups)

3 green chillies

1 small bunch fresh coriander leaves, roots and stems removed

1 small bunch mint, stems removed

2-inch piece ginger

3 garlic cloves

½ tsp cumin powder

¼ tsp turmeric powder

4 tbsp lemon/lime juice

Salt to taste

1 large banana leaf, central spine removed, cut into six equal pieces

1 tbsp cooking oil

Place fish steaks in a large, flat tray and drizzle with lemon/lime juice and salt, coating fully with this marinade. Keep aside for 20 minutes. Grind together the coconut, green chillies, coriander and mint leaves, garlic and ginger, cumin and turmeric powders to a smooth paste, adding salt to taste. Add very little water, if required, just enough to achieve a chutney-like consistency. Liberally coat each piece of fish with this mixture, and keep aside. Take a banana leaf and lightly smear oil on the smooth side. Place a piece of fish in the centre of the leaf and wrap over to form a neat parcel. Tie lightly with cotton string or twine. Cook in a steamer for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot unwrapped but with the string removed, as a fish parcel.

 

Note: Instead of steaming, the fish can be baked in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes until fully cooked.

 

Chettinad Fish Curry

Typical of south India, this delicious curry is a traditional treat, specially when accompanied by hot rice and a great selection of papads.

½ kg fish, cut into medium sized pieces

2 tsp red chilli powder

3 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)

1 tbsp poppy seeds (khus khus)

For the seasoning
½ tsp mustard

½ tsp black gram (urad dal)
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp fennel (saunf)
6-8 curry leaves
1 small onion, chopped
6 garlic flakes, chopped
1 cup tomato, chopped
Tamarind extract to taste
Salt to taste.

Wash the fish slices and keep aside. Grind together red chillies, coriander seeds, fennel and poppy seeds. In a kadhai, heat oil and temper with mustard seeds, black gram dal, saunf, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Add garlic and onion and fry till onions are light brown. Add ground masala and fry well. Next, add tomato and tamarind extract and let the curry simmer for a few minutes. Add fish and salt, cover and cook till done. Serve hot with white rice.

 

Hyderabadi Fish Biryani

What could be more appealing that a combination of rice and fish cooked together in an array of delightful spices, from the city that invented biryani

1 kg white fish fillets

1 cup yoghurt

4 cups Basmati rice

2 medium sized onions

12 green chillies

1 large sprig of mint leaves

½ bunch fresh coriander

1 tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp turmeric

½ tbsp whole garam masala (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper)

½ tsp garam masala powder

1 tsp pepper powder

1 tbsp lemon juice

Few strands of saffron soaked in approx. 4 tbsp of warm milk

Oil for frying

1 tbsp ghee

Salt to taste.

 

Wash the Basmati rice and place on the boil in a large vessel with twice the quantity of water, eg. 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Slit 4 -5 green chillies vertically and add to the water, along with the whole garam masala. Add salt to taste. Boil on low flame until the rice is half-cooked, then drain and keep aside. Marinate the fish with yoghurt, red chilli, turmeric and garam masala powders, adding salt to taste. Heat a teaspoon of oil and fry half the chillies, mint and coriander leaves for 2 minutes on medium flame. Grind this to a fine paste and add to the marinated fish, adding pepper powder.

Cut the onions into thin round slices, and deep fry until golden brown. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain off excess oil. Add the rest of the vertically slit green chillies, fresh mint and coriander leaves, and keep aside.

Place a teaspoon of oil in a large thick bottomed vessel, and spread it across the base. Pour the marinaded fish mixture, then place a layer of onion mixture over the fish. Pour the lime juice over the onion mix and then layer it with the partially boiled rice. Sprinkle with a little preheated oil used for frying the onions and ghee. Add saffron milk for flavour on top of the mix. Shut the vessel with a tight fitting lid and leave it to simmer on a slow flame for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked and the grains are separated. Mix gently before serving. Serve hot with cucumber raita.

 

Kerala Crab Masala

Another favourite from coastal south India, this succulent dish is tangy and tasty, and is reminiscent of swaying palms and gently swishing waves

1 kg crabs, cleaned but with the shells intact

6 garlic pods, finely minced

1 inch piece ginger, finely minced

2 green chillies, slit vertically

½ tsp tamarind paste

1 medium tomato, chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped

6-8 curry leaves

1 dry red chilli

1 tsp garam masala powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp chilli powder

1 tbsp oil

300 mls water

Salt to taste

2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves chopped for garnishing.

Heat the oil in a deep-bottomed kadhai. Add curry leaves and red chilli and cook briefly. Add ginger and garlic and cook for two minutes. Add the chopped onions and cook until soft. Add the green chillies, garam masala, turmeric and salt, mix well, cover and let simmer. Add warm water to the tamarind pulp to make a paste and add this to the mixture. Add chopped tomatoes, crab and mix well. Add water and cook on low heat until the crab is thoroughly cooked. Stand for ten minutes to let the crab meat absorb the flavours of the curry. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.