Live Viraal is a one-and-half-foot long eel-like freshwater fish, which is a great delicacy in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. I remember my mother buying Live Viraal from vendors, who used to bring a tub of water with the viraal swimming around in it. It used to be bought and kept in an anda (large brass water-storing vessel). The next morning my mother used to rub ash from the firewood stove on to her palms, to be able to grasp the slippery fish, catch it by its tail and take it out into the courtyard and swing it and dash its head against the paving stones to kill it. She used to rub the firewood ash on it and scrape the fine scales off. After slicing it, she used to rub salt on the slices, especially the skin of the fish, before washing it thoroughly. The salt removes the slime which is usually found on the skin of the freshwater fish. Those who are used to marine fish dislike freshwater fish because they do not know this way of cleaning it, and the slime gives it a better taste.
Now, Supreme Seafood in Chennai deliver cleaned ‘live’ viraal slices to my doorstep and thankfully I do not have to go through the gory process of killing it. The recipe given below can be used for any freshwater or marine fish.
- ½ kg Live Viraal slices
- 1 small Onion, diced
- 2 medium Tomatoes, chopped
- 1 lemon-sized ball of tamarind
- ¾ C fresh Coconut scrapings
- ¼ tsp Turmeric powder
- 1 T Kashmiri Chilli powder
- 1 T Coriander powder
- ¼ tsp Fenugreek powder
- ¼ tsp Mustard seeds
- ¼ tsp Fenugreek seeds
- 2 sprigs Curry Leaves
- 2 T Gingelly/Sesame Oil
- 1 T Salt, or to taste, and extra for cleaning the fish
- Rub the fish slices, especially the skin with salt. Wash it away with water. Drain and set aside.
- Pour a cup of hot water over the tamarind and allow it to soak for 30 minutes. Squeeze and extract the juice; use more water if necessary, strain and set aside.
- Grind the coconut scrapings in a mixie or blender to a fine paste.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-based, medium-sized saucepan.
- Add the mustard seeds. As soon as they pop, add the fenugreek seeds and then the diced onion. Stir.
- When the onions become translucent, add the chopped tomato and allow it to cook till the oil separates.
- Add the spice powders and salt and mix well.
- Add the tamarind extract and the ground coconut. Add extra water to arrive at a thick gravy consistency. Bring to boil.
- Add the fish slices; bring to boil again, lower heat. Cover the vessel and cook till the fish slices rise and float.
- Add the curry leaves. Remove from heat.
- Serve with plain boiled rice or dosai or idli.
- Viraal is always killed just before it is cleaned and cut. Hence it is known as live viraal.
- If fresh coconut is not available, half a cup of reconstituted thick coconut milk could be used.
- Add curry leaves before removing it from heat to get the maximum flavour.
- If you are using fresh tamarind extract, strain the extract twice to remove the grit.