Last year, my colleague T brought crumb-fried fish to an office picnic that was an instant hit. It was made with basa, that most boring of all fish, and it had gone cold by the time we got around to eating, but it was so good that people practically inhaled it. It was one of those dishes that was excellent precisely because it was straightforward – chunks of fish, marinated in spices and lime juice, and then crumbed and deep fried. There was no way you wouldn’t love it. And for a recent dinner, T, who is also my flatmate, took it to another level.
We haven’t eaten a lot of fish or meat during the lockdown, thanks to our usual delivery services not operating. Over the last two weeks, these services have resumed operations in our area and we immediately set about trying to get what we could. Unfortunately, none of the fish that we wanted – bhetki (Asian sea bass), surmai (king mackerel), bangda (Indian mackeral) – were available, so we settled for basa again. And given how tasteless basa is, we could only deep-fry it. This time, however, T played around with a chutney-style marinade, similar to the chutney that is used to make the exquisite Parsi fish preparation, Patra Ni Machi. The Parsi preparation requires slathering marinated fish pieces (usually pomfret or Indian salmon) with green chutney and then steaming it inside banana leaf wrappers. In T’s recipe, the fish is marinated in the chutney, before being crumbed and deep-fried – it may not be as light as steamed fish, but it’s just as lip smacking.
500 gms basa, cut into steaks ½ inch thick and 3 inches long
3 whole eggs
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup maida
2 cups of toasted breadcrumbs
Oil to fry
For the marinade
8-9 cloves of garlic
1-2 inch ginger
7-8 green chillies – you can use fewer or more depending on how potent the chillies are
1 handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stem
1 handful of fresh mint
9-10 whole black peppercorns
20 ml white vinegar
Juice from ½ lime
A pinch of sugar
Salt, to taste
Grind the ingredients for the marinade to a fine paste and coat the fish pieces liberally. Keep in the fridge for 5-6 hours or overnight.
Set up a dredging station with three separate bowls or dishes – one containing the two types of flour, mixed together, one with yolk and white from the three eggs and one with the breadcrumbs. Dredge each piece of fish in the flour, then dip it in the egg bath and finally, dredge it in the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat it as thoroughly as possible.
Once all the fish pieces have been thus crumbed, you can immediately deep fry them, but T recommends putting them away in the fridge for an additional couple of hours. This, she says, ensures that the coating sticks properly to the fish, making for an even, crisp covering when fried.
Heat oil in a wok on high flame and when it’s hot enough (but before it starts smoking), bring the flame down to medium and slide in the first fish piece. Deep fry all the pieces on medium flame. If the flame is high, you’ll get a good crust before the inside is properly cooked.
You can shallow fry the fish pieces in a pan too, but make sure you get an even golden-brown crust on all sides. After all, that is the whole point of fried fish.
Serve hot with dips of choice and some onion slices pickled in salt and vinegar.
This recipe works best with bhetki or Asian sea bass
The egg bath can be substituted with buttermilk
Crushed plain cornflakes can be used in place of toasted breadcrumbs. You can also use suji or rawa (semolina)
The proportions of all the ingredients in the marinade can be adjusted to suit personal taste, so don’t be afraid to tinker with it
For a more indulgent crust, you can grate cheese into the toasted breadcrumbs
[The Back Burner is a biweekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
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