Freshwater fish dishes are relished only in interior Tamil Nadu. People in Chennai are not familiar with the taste of these fish and sometimes even mock those who consume it. But now that even marine fish are cultivated in freshwater lakes and can be bought online, the lake pomfret costs Rs. 300/kg while marine pomfret costs Rs. 800/kg! Therefore I have been developing recipes using freshwater fish. In this recipe I have combined the strong smelling radish with the mild flavoured lake pomfret and also avoided using chilli powder. Instead I have used mustard powder to give it a slight bite. This mild fish curry is a great success in my house – not with my fish hating son of course 🙂 It goes very well with chappatis, unlike the traditional fish curries.
Fish food doesn’t agree with some people, perhaps because we use a lot of spices in India. I was looking for a fish recipe that used Indian spices but was mild flavoured. I found one in The Cook’s Colour Treasury called hake gratin, which was baked with cheese. To make it suitable for our palate, I removed the cheese and substituted coriander leaves in place of parsley. I used trevally, which is an inexpensive fish in India and can be easily skinned and cut into fillets. The result was a melt-in-your-mouth baked fish with a flavour that no one can resist.
Tiny shrimps are referred to as Chenna Kunni in Tamil Nadu. They are salted and dried whole i.e., with the head and shell intact. These are combined with vegetables and prepared as poriyal (fry). I came up with this recipe as I wanted to prepare a very high protein side dish, and dry shrimp has very concentrated protein. I used broad beans as their water content is not very high, and that goes well with the dry shrimp. Chenna kunni is usually combined with drumstick leaves in Tamil Nadu.
Meen Asaadhu is a recipe which my mother had copied from her grandmother’s book but she never prepared. I was always curious about it and tried it only when I was able to get skinless and boneless fish cubes (when I moved near the sea 10 years ago). My great-grandmother had recommended either pomfret or barracuda, but you can use other any other marine fish which could be prepared into cubes. I prefer to use black pomfret.
Shark is a very strong-smelling fish and is therefore used primarily to make pittu and cutlets. In my family we use it only to make pittu, and we never make kuzhambu (gravy) using it. My mother preferred to use a small variety of shark known as pal sura, but it is not available round the year, and therefore I use the more regularly available larger variety. The pittu recipe I have used comes from my great-grandmother and is very different from the sura pittu prepared in Chennai.
There are several Western or Chinese recipes where fish is fried dipped in batters which use milk or egg. In Tamil Nadu the batter that is used for the preparation of Bhajjis (vegetable slices dipped and fried in batter) is used to fry fish also. Bhajji batter is made chiefly of Bengal Gram flour, and the result is a wonderfully crisp coating with soft fish inside.
I am not a fan of the ubiquitous King Fish (Vanjiram), which people usually prefer to serve as large fried slices, whether it be a simple household or a star hotel. I find the disproportionately high price of King Fish also very off-putting. Cobia (Kadal Viraal) is at least 30 percent cheaper than King Fish or Sea Bass (Koduva), and much less smelly.