Hello fellow Nomaste-rs! Hope you're all doing (more than) fine and well, and enjoying the summer out there! Ice cream trips to the local shop with the family, spending time on the beach, barbecues, and the soirees, is what a perfect summer is all about! And I hope there are some travel plans on the cards too for you all! This year we're not taking a summer trip, as we plan on visiting the homeland late fall or winter! I can't wait! But boy do I need a vacation! It's been a while I took one. But soon! :)
Another thing that's reminiscent of summer is seafood. The fresh and delicate seafood flavors are right for the season and they're so good for you too. Unfortunately, like other meats, there is a lot of phoney stuff floating (literally) out there, and you should only be buying wild-caught seafood if you want to be super sure of quality. Some companies (I think Whole Foods) have stricter farm raised seafood standards that might be the exception to the rule, so you might be OK there, but yeah do watch out for all that farm-raised, color added fish you get at most places. Definitely fishy!
Anyway, us North Indians (especially Punjabis) sadly don't eat much seafood, as we're all about that meat! Chicken and Mutton (Goat meat in India) are the most popular forms of meat, and it's been that way for ages. But one dish that I simply love is the Amritsari Fish. It's crispy, batter fried fish with hints of Carom Seeds, Ginger, Lime juice and Amchur (dried Mango powder). Perfect beer food! It is divine! Every time we were at a wedding, we were petty sure there was going to be Amritsari Fish as one of the food items (as an appetizer) and we would stock up so much on the apps, that we barely lasted till dinner. Plus, apps are more fun than mains! ;) Right? But this is Fish recipe is so amazing, yet I haven't been able to find it anywhere in the states so far!
So! Since it's summer and I found this lovely Tilapia at the store, it immediately brought back all the memories and I really started craving Amritsari Fish! After a quick discussion with my wife we decided we're not going to eat fried Fish as a dinner meal (good thinking babe), but somehow capture the essence of that recipe and make something more substantial.
Immediately, the Achari Fish Curry came to mind! It's a savory delicate dish that uses almost all the spices that make up the oh-so-loved Punjabi Mango Pickle but in a curry sauce.
The Achari Fish Curry is the flavor of Punjab and my grandma's Mango pickle, all packed into one heady mix of intense aroma and nostalgia.
It's actually reasonably represented at Indian restaurants here in the states, but not this kind! The original, awesome kind we're going to make today! You guys... get ready for this explosive and flavorful recipe that bold yet delicate and packed with so much flavor!
All right, let's get to it, shall we?
PS: This recipe uses some spices that might not be available at hand to you, or might be hard to source, as an alternative just find an Indian grocery store and grab a box of Achar Masala and skip the part where we make our own spice mix.
Achari Fish Curry
Serves 4-6 people
First, let's get a game plan together for this baby. Step 1, we make our own spice mix from scratch (not using boxed stuff). Then we marinate the Fish for half an hour or so, we start our sauce and Rice in the meantime, and at the end, flash fry the marinated Fish and add to the sauce. Kapish? Awesome! Let's do this!
4 fillets of white fish (I used Tilapia)
10 tbsp Oil for frying
• The Achari Spice Mix (if you're not using boxed concoctions)
1 tbsp Fennel seeds (Saunf) + 1 tbsp more for adding in the sauce
1 tbsp Nigella seeds (Kalonji) + 1 tbsp more for adding in the sauce
1 tbsp Fenugreek seeds (Methi Dana) + 1 tbsp more for adding in the sauce
1 tbsp Cumin powder
1 tbsp Corriander powder
1 tbsp Dried Mango powder (Amchur)
1/2 tbsp Turmeric Powder
1/2 tbsp Red Chilli powder
1/2 tbsp Salt
(for reference here's what you're spice plate should look like, minus the Dried Mango powder because I forgot :)
• Curry Sauce Ingredients
3-4 medium Tomatoes
3 tbsp Tomato paste
2 medium Onions
2 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste
Juice of 1 Lime
Achari Spice Mix
1 cup Chicken stock
2 tbsp Oil (I used Grapeseed)
• Saffron Rice
2 cups Basmati Rice
4 cups water
Few strands of Saffron
Ok, time to get cooking! I can hardly wait.
First let's get the crucial spice mix together. Super easy, toss 1 tbsp of the Fennel, Nigella and Fenugreek seeds into a mortar pestle or Coffee grinder and pulse into a fine powder. (Remember to save 1 tbsp of those seeds aside and leave them whole to add in the sauce later for texture and flavor) Add back in to spice plate and mix it all up well. Set aside.
Wash, clean and dry fish fillets, and cut into 1 inch thick pieces.
Add half of the spice mix you just made to the Fish pieces, making sure all pieces are coated well! And once you're done, cling wrap the dish and store away in the fridge while we make our curry sauce.
Let's start on our sauce!
Start a heavy bottom pan on medium flame and add 2 tbsp of Oil. While that's getting nice and hot, mince your Onions down to a puree in a food processor. Add it to the pan along along with the Ginger Garlic paste, and start the slow caramelization process, stirring every 5 minutes or so. This is where you can't hurry it up guys! It's going to take about 20 minutes or so (that is actually hurried up time by some people's standards) so be patient. Please :)
Actually having a beer is a great way to spend time in the kitchen, while you wait for your food to cook and come to life slowly, but beautifully. So yes! Pop open a cold one.
After the Onions have acquired some color add the remaining spice mix including 1 tbsp each of whole Fennel, Nigella and Fenugreek seeds.
Move all that around for a couple of minutes and let it toast for a few more.
In the meantime add Tomatoes to a food processor and puree them. It's important to pick the right kind of ripe Tomatoes for this job, since we're using fresh ingredients you want to make sure we can get the most out of all our ingredients. I used ripe plum Tomatoes.
Add the Tomato puree to the pan along with Tomato paste, and add the Chicken stock. Stir well to dissolve the Tomato paste, and cover the pan.
We're getting close guys! Since the sauce is working away, we can make some of that fragrant Saffron Rice!
Super easy. Just throw your Basmati and 4 cups water in a pan on medium heat and cover it up. Around 5-6 minutes in, add your Saffron and gently stir it around. Cover for another 3 minutes and turn off the flame. Leave the pot uncovered at this point. Here's what we're looking for in our Rice. Beautiful, long pearly strands of Rice, and the Saffron aroma should permeate the air by now. The Rice will have some moisture in it, but will soon be soaked up.
Now we fry fish (flash fry)! The best part of this recipe actually. Haha.
A deep pan on high heat. Oil for frying (around 10 tbsp or so). Let it get quite hot. Bring the Fish out of the fridge and wait for 5 minutes for it to come to room temperature.
When the oil is very hot throw in as many pieces of Fish you can move around and fish out (see what I did there) fast. You absolutely don't want to overcook the Fish, and since these are small pieces, this will happen very fast.
Armed with a spatula in one hand and an open hand for tossing the Fish into the pan, fry the fish for a minute on each side. Total of 2 minutes, and out of the pan it comes. Repeat for the rest of the fish. It should look lovely and golden brown, and smell heavenly a this point! It's also OK to cheat and sneak one into your mouth. Good, right?! Told ya ;)
Time to check on the sauce. If the oils have separated from the curry, you're pretty much done, but I just like to work it a bit more to concentrate even more flavor. So maybe 5 more minutes and we're golden. Golden brown in this case actually (tee he he).
Once the sauce is done, time to check for seasoning and then add the Fish to it. Please be extra delicate and make sure to just gently fold your Fish in there so as to not break it up into a mush.
Once the Fish is in the pan, and the rice is done, chop add the Cilantro and add the Lime juice and give it a final gentle stir, and congratulate yourself on a truly-made-from-scratch delicious Achari Fish Curry. This is a special dish, since for some reason Fish was a rare thing we ate growing up, but when I did, it was this!
The flavors of this dish remind me of my days of our random night out at the restaurant with mom and dad and my brother, and then later going out to India Gate for ice cream, and having a great time!
I hope you enjoy this dish and it helps you make some memories in the kitchen or just enjoying it on the dinner table with your family. Drop me a note when you do!
Love and Nomaste!