Food talk
Fun with fish
Steamed or poached fish combined with sauce makes for a Piscean delight, writes Pushpesh Pant

The world is clearly divided between those who love fish blindly and those, to put it mildly, always find the poor things ‘fishy’. There is no dearth of excuses — the bones are bothersome or the smell is overpowering and you can never be sure of the catch of the day being safely fresh etc.

Express transpiration and improved refrigeration have changed the things. The variety of fish available in the market is mind-boggling. Not all the fish is burdened with bones nor is all the stuff smelly. Gone are the days when one had to rely on a Bengali friend or a knowledgeable neighbour on what to buy.

Nowadays, one can just walk into a food mart or a store dedicated to fish and help oneself to a boneless stake or fish. Or stay faithful to the classic rohu cut into darns. You don’t have to stay on the coast to relish to your heart’s content the pomfrets and the prawns.

But one problem persists. There are not many who have mastered more than one way (maybe two or three at the most) to prepare Piscean delicacies.

Of course, when you do away with the curry you can dunk the fish pieces in spicy batter and fry it as pakoras or if you are health conscious grill it.

The delights offered by steamed or poached fish are many with a complementing sauce subtle or strong. However, most Indians are reluctant to experiment and remain faithful to the time-tested flavours of korma, kaliya and salan.

This is the reason we are tickled every time we purloin a recipe from these genres that can make the machali taste different.

We are very pleased to share the recipe for a machi korma ‘gifted to us’ by Kausar Apa from Hyderabad. Tastes perfect with surmai but you may substitute with any fish of your own choice. Enjoy.

Surmai korma

Fish (cut into four fillets) one kg

Onions (finely sliced) three

Ginger (grated) three tsp

Garlic (crushed) four tsp

Red chilli powder 1-1/2 tsp

Medium tomatoes (chopped) four

Turmeric powder 1-1/2 tsp

Dry whole red chillies four to six

Tamarind (extract) 1-1/2 tbsp

Coriander powder 3 tsp

Coconut milk 1/2 cup

Oil 1/4 cup

Salt to taste

Heat oil in a pan and fry the onions till light brown. Add ginger, garlic, salt and red chilli powder. Continue to stir-fry for two minutes more and add spice pastes. Then sprinkle a little water, cover and simmer for three to four minutes to blend the spices. Add chopped tomatoes and fry till the liquid dries up somewhat and the tomatoes blend with other spices. Add about one cup of water. When the water starts to boil, gently slide the fish fillets in the pan. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, very gently, till the fish is cooked. Add coconut milk and serve hot. Do not allow the dish to come to a boil after the coconut milk has been added.