An old tale tells us to avoid eating fish in the months with no ‘r’ — May, June, July, and August, the peak summer and monsoon months. Come September and we can eat fish right up to April. That makes winter the right time to eat fish.

Moreover, summer is breeding season for fish and, if we want more fish in the next season, we have to allow them to breed. For this reason, it is better to abstain from catching, buying or eating fresh fish during the ‘no fishing months’ when it is also illegal to catch fish.

Besides this ecological factor, during breeding season the toxins produced in fish makes their flesh unsavoury. Eating fish also produces heat in your body and makes you thirsty, something you would want to minimise in summer.

For a balanced diet, one or two fish meals per week is ideal. Fish is low in fat, and an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for cerebral development.

When buying fish, there are two important things to check: one that the fish species is not prone to contaminations such as a high mercury content and, two, that it is a sustainable species.

There is a variety of fish that can be cooked in many different ways. Each recipe requires a particular type of fish in terms of texture, taste and cut: firm or soft and tender flesh; strong-smelling and strong-flavoured oily fish or something milder; thick portions or thin; cut as fingers, fillets or steaks; from the back, abdomen or middle section; with skin and bones or without.

If the recipe does not specify what kind of fish to use, and if you are not sure about it yourself, the fishmonger may be able to guide you.

FISH CURRY

This curry is so quick, easy and simple to make that while you are preparing it, you might wonder if you’re missing something, but the end result will re-assure you that you got it right.

For this curry, use a firm-fleshed fish like surmai (the Indo-Pacific king mackerel) which won’t disintegrate while being cooked in a curry, and is not too strong in flavour that it would clash with the strong-scented curry spices.

Use fish cuts like cutlets or darnes (single-serving cross-section half-inch thick portions sliced through the backbone of a whole fish from the section between the head and mid-body) or suprêmes (single-serving boneless two-inch wide portions cut width ways from larger fillets).

Ingredients

1 kg fish cut in cutlets
1 teaspoon chilli powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon garam masala powder, freshly ground
½ teaspoon carom seeds, freshly ground
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds, whole
½ teaspoon or to taste salt
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
1 cup yoghurt, lightly whisked
2-3 green chillies chopped
1/3 cup coriander leaves
1 cup water

For garam masala powder

8 cloves
16 black peppercorns
1 black cardamom
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick

Tip: *To get the full flavour and fragrance of the curry, use freshly ground carom seeds and garam masala.

*Use a pot large enough to fit in the fish cutlets in a single layer.

Method

In a large flat-based pot, heat some oil and fry the fenugreek seeds till they darken. Add the ginger-garlic paste and stir-fry till it becomes aromatic. Add one chopped green chilli and fry it till its skin starts to bubble. In a cup of water, add salt, chilli powder, turmeric, carom seed and garam masala powder. Mix thoroughly, pour into the hot oil and let it simmer till the turmeric smells fully cooked. Place the fish cutlets gently on the base of the flat pot, slightly apart from each other and in a single layer so that they can cook through easily without breaking. Pour yoghurt over the fish, covering it completely. Now cover the lid and let the fish steam in the curry for five minutes. Remove the lid and, without displacing or touching the fish, gently swirl the curry around to cover the fish more evenly.

Garnish with garam masala powder, green chillies and coriander leaves. Replace the lid and steam for another 10 minutes or till the fish is cooked. Gently transfer the fish with a spatula to the serving dish. Pour the curry over the fish and serve hot with chapatti or boiled/steamed rice.

Tawa fish

For this you can use fish of your choice, either for its flavour or its texture, and any preferred cut.

Ingredients

1 kg fish
½ teaspoon chilli powder
½ teaspoon crushed red chilli
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon toasted, crushed cumin
½ teaspoon or to taste salt
Juice of two limes
2-3 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic, crushed

Method

In a bowl, mix all the spices and ingredients and marinate the fish with it. Set aside in the freezer for at least two hours before cooking. Place the fish pieces on a greased, heated tawa and cook till each side is crispy. Serve with a side of hearty salad.

Fish in tamarind sauce

Pan-seared or deep-fried whole red snapper with tamarind sauce salsa poured over is an exotic dish for those dinners where you want to impress with your cooking skills. It tastes as beautiful as it looks.

Ingredients

1 kg whole red snapper, cleaned and scaled
½ cup white flour
Oil for frying

For the chilli tamarind sauce

 1/3 cup coriander, chopped
2 long red chillies, chopped
1 small white onion, peeled and finely sliced
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup tamarind pulp
1/3 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon or to taste salt
1 tablespoon oil 

For the garnish

1 long red chilli, chopped
2 stalks spring onions, finely sliced into threads
2 lemon, cut into wedges

METHOD

For the garnish: Soak spring onion threads in a bowl of iced water and set aside, to make them crunchy and curled.  

For the sauce: Grind coriander, chilli and garlic to a coarse paste. In a saucepan, stir fry the onion and ginger until they become aromatic. Add coriander paste and stir fry till they blend. Add tamarind, sugar, salt, and fish sauce, with enough water to make a thick paste, and simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.

Make three cuts across the body of the snapper on both sides. This will make it easier to cook and serve. Lightly coat the fish in flour to protect the flesh and skin during frying and to make the skin crispy. Fill a wok with enough oil to deep-fry the snapper. Heat oil and fry the fish for five minutes on one side and four minutes on the next side, or until it cooks through and becomes white on the inside and golden outside. Drain on paper towel, and place fish on serving dish. Pour sauce and sprinkle garnish over the fish before serving.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 24th, 2019