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East Indian Mustard Fish Curry

 
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Pockymonkey



Joined: 02 Aug 2005
Posts: 63
Location: Northfield, MN

PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2005 11:41 pm    Post subject: East Indian Mustard Fish Curry Reply with quote

I had a major triumph yesterday that I thought I would share. I grew up in a fish-loving household. The part of India where my family comes from, people eat fish like there's no tomorrow (last trip, I ate fish at LEAST two meals a day, and it isn't odd to have at least two different fish dishes per meal).

Needless to say, people I mention this to are always slightly taken aback because most of them don't think Indian food=fish. And I don't think it generally does except in certain regions (and those regions are hardly ever represented in the average curry house's menu).

So I've never actually managed to make my favorite fish recipe, simply because I was too afraid of it coming out horribly, prompting comparisons to my mother's impeccable preparation, and leading to sadness. But yesterday I was really craving it, so I took the plunge, and it came out just fine! Very, very happy. So I thought I would share:

1 lb. firm white fish (I use tilapia. The traditional prep. is with a local Indian fish that I can't find in the US)
2 tbl. whole brown mustard seed
1-2 small green chiles
1 small onion, chopped
+ vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and turmeric

In a small blender or mini food processor, combine the mustard seed, chile, and about 1/4 cup water and puree until the it all makes a pungent, frothy brew - the mustard seed and chile should be more or less ground up. I also tried this once with a mortar and pestle and it took a long time to get the mustard seed ground up correctly, but it can be done that way as well. My mother says that dry ground mustard can be used instead, but I like the super pungency of fresh mustard.

Sprinkle both sides of the fish with salt, pepper, and turmeric. Heat a few tsp. of oil in a skillet and cook the onions until soft. Remove and add the fish cooking it on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Then add the onions back in and the mustard/chile brew and about 1/4 c. more water. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for about 5-6 minutes or until the gravy has reduced. Serve with rice.

I hope the proportions will work for others interesting in trying it. Like many family recipes, this one came to me via my mother but without exact measurements. These are the approximations that have worked for me.

Now if I can only master my mother's amazing Indian rice pudding (there are apparently two secrets to it: a special grain of rice that she brings back specially from India, and the crystalized sap of the date palm tree that she also specially brings back on her yearly trips.)
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wnissen



Joined: 17 Mar 2005
Posts: 13
Location: Livermore, CA

PostPosted: Fri Aug 26, 2005 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, that sounds wonderful. We like tilapia, and we love mustard and chiles, so I'm going to try making this next week.

It's always interesting to see the variety of real Indian cooking. Onion I would expect, but actually there's not a large quantity of aromatics (no garlic or ginger), only one spice, not counting the turmeric, nor any ghee (is that mainly Northern?). Thanks for posting this, I'm looking forward to it.

Walt
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Chicago Bear



Joined: 02 May 2005
Posts: 240
Location: Chicago

PostPosted: Fri Aug 26, 2005 6:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

P-monkey, how do you think that this recipe would work with a shellfish, like scallops or lobster? It looks like it could be a really good fit, but I'd like your expert opinion.
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Pockymonkey



Joined: 02 Aug 2005
Posts: 63
Location: Northfield, MN

PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2005 3:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wnissen, the regional variations in Indian cuisine are truly remarkable, and yet, you would never guess at the diversity from a standard Indian restaurant menu. The regional dishes of Bengal, where my family is from, seem to have very different spicing than the dishes found elsewhere in India. Having grown up in the US, I have only my family's word and my own observations to back that view up, but it seems to be true. Bengali dishes don't have the high levels of heat that are typical in South India, and the dishes have simpler spices, with mustard being a favorite. The preferred cooking oil is mustard oil, which adds a nice pungency to foods (though the mustard oil I found in my local store is labeled "not for human consumption" which I found odd...of course, in India, the olive oil is labeled the exact same thing Very Happy )

I once asked my mother why she never added garlic to her curries (I love garlic in any form, so its absence made me curious) and she looked at me like I was out of my mind ("garlic doesn't GO in these curries, don't you know that?"). Her cooking does have the ever-present coriander and cumin seeds, and she also uses asofoetida (sp?), garam masala, black onion seeds, and ginger.

My mother mentioned to me that it's very important to grind the mustard with the chiles, otherwise they apparently come out bitter. She also says that frying the fish in mustard oil really enhances the flavor as well.

Since my measurements are all such approximations, you might also consider this "official" recipe - which is basically getting at the same end result (without risking my estimates not working for you) - same method, though I'd still brown the tilapia first before adding the mustard spices to it.

3 tablespoons mustard seed
5 green chile peppers, diced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
salt to taste
1/3 cup water
2 pounds firm fish, cut into chunks

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DIRECTIONS:
Place the mustard seed and chile peppers in a bowl, and mash together to create a fine paste.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the onions until golden. Mix in mustard and chile paste, chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Stir in water. Place fish in the skillet. Reduce heat to low, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and fish is easily flaked with a fork.

Chicago Bear, I don't really know the answer to your question. I suppose there's no reason it couldn't work with shellfish, though I've never seen it done that way. This preparation is usually done with a local fish called hilsa - really, really flavorful, but it has so many bones that it is truly necessary to eat it with your hands. I've never had scallops or lobster in a Bengali dish, but my family does adore prawns. My grandmother used to make this divine prawn curry that was yogurt-based with a vinegary kick - slightly tangy and sour, creamy and very subtly spiced (again, not super hot). Hmm, I should really look around to see if I can find it.

I'm going to India in January - I'll have to fill up a notebook with more family recipes while there.
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wnissen



Joined: 17 Mar 2005
Posts: 13
Location: Livermore, CA

PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2005 5:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Pockymonkey,

I have a couple of questions. First, should I leave the seeds and ribs inside the green chiles? Second, should the chili/mustard paste cook at all before the fish is added? I followed your original recipe to a T (well, I used a different whitefish), and the spicing was very "raw" tasting to my palate. My wife liked it a great deal, I did not enjoy it. I'm just trying to make sure I prepared it correctly. The turmeric on the fish before searing is an excellent technique, I really liked the color and subtle flavor it lent to the flesh.

Walt
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Pockymonkey



Joined: 02 Aug 2005
Posts: 63
Location: Northfield, MN

PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2005 3:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Walt,

I've never cooked the mustard/paste mixture before adding it to the fish, but if it tastes raw to you, I think you could add it to the pan with the onions and fry it a bit before adding the fish. Or you might try making the mustard paste with prepared, dry mustard rather than the whole mustard seeds - this might solve the problem.

I usually leave the seeds in the chiles, but I like the extra heat. The dish isn't normally super hot, so if you want to take the seeds and ribs out, you easily could.

I'll ask my mother next time I speak with her - perhaps there's something else that she could recommend.
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