Fish cravings V 1.0
Deep fried. Shallow fried. Steamed. Mashed. Minced. Filleted. Whole. Fish heads. And roe.Floating in mustard sauce. In yogurt sauce. In thin gravies. In thick ones. Batter-fried. Rava encrusted. Chutney wrapped. With winter vegetables. And dried mangoes.
This was all I could think of as I packed my bags for my bi-annual trips home. Every single time. And the first meal I had after Rajdhani deposited me, faithfully on time at Bhubaneswar station, had to be fishy. It was the same with Tina, my sister. Even though she made a trip every three months, good daughter that she is. We even counted the number of meat eating days we were lucky to have during our stay (see this to know more), since that translated into the number of times fish would make it to the dinning table, and the possible number of combinations in which it would arrive. Tina had (and she tells me still does) a list of things she just-had-to-eat on every single trip. A sort of bucket list. And that very often included fish for breakfast. Yes, you heard that right. Heart shaped fillets of Rohu marinated in a simple mixture of salt, turmeric and chilli powders, and shallow fried in golden mustard oil. This was the first step to making a fish curry that would form a part of my father’s lunch box that he carried with him to his office. My mother reserved some for the curry, some for a simple stir fry with green chillies and lots of onions, and the few that were left we happily had for breakfast. Just one per person, in case this whole story is forcing you to come up with rather dodgy names to refer to us-the Oriya Fish-ters or such like.
Fish Cravings V.2.0
By now you have probably worked it out that our family is very partial to a particular category of vertebrates. If you haven’t, let me say it loud (in my best Gollum voice) “WE NEEDS IT. WE WANTS IT. ITS OUR PRECIOUS“. Even when we traveled outside Orissa a good fish dish really made our trip. We were always open to trying local food, and more than happy if our beloved fish was a part of the local cuisine. One of my family’s favourite trip had been to Kerala. I opted out of it since a summer internship by some strange logic made more sense to me than vacationing in “God’s own country”. My parents and sister would call me and fill me in with the details of the day, the places the went to, the sights the saw, the food they ate. My father just could not stop praising the Karimeen. “Can you make it? It was excellent. It was wrapped in banana leaves. And coated with spices. Can you make it? It was very good. It had black pepper. Can you make it?”
I have imagined standing behind Chinese fishing nets, a packet of banana chips in hand, taking in coral sunsets. I have bit into macaroons in delicate boutiques in Paris. Tasted rhubarb pies in farmers markets in England. Torn tiny pieces of Prata and dunked it into fragrant curries in Singapore. All without traveling. Most through my sister. Some through my parents. And a few via the accounts of my friends. Food enthralls me. It makes me want to travel. Since my family’s trip to Kerala, I was intrigued by the Karimeen. And by my sisters accounts of the spices found there. “You have to see the spices hanging off the creepers. The nutmeg? It looks so healthy! So glossy!” . So what if I couldn’t travel? I had my time-machine-my kitchen. I could cook. Experience what my father had experienced when he had his first bite of Karimeen pollichathu. That counts for something, doesn’t it?
I have made Karimeen pollichathu quite a few times. And I have loved it every single time. I love the pollichathu mix. I love the fact that it uses pepper in three ways-red chilli powder, black pepper powder, and freshly crushed black pepper. All the three add different layers of spice, hit different spots. If you are going to make this dish, I’d suggest add all the three or don’t make the dish. After making this dish a few times I wondered how would the pollichathu mix take to local Oriya fishes. I tried it with one of my father’s favourite fishes-pohala/pohada. Its a small river fish, a little larger than an adult palm in size, and looks very similar to herring. It was excellent.
I have tweaked this specific rceipe by removing a few things from what would otherwise be used in making Karimeen polichathu, like, coconut and curry leaves. This is NOT a recipe for Karimeen polichathu. Its my way of travelling. From my kitchen. I would not want you to call it “fusion” cooking since that term conjures really bad images in my mind. Like overcooked pasta in tomato ketchup. No, forget pasta in tomato ketchup. Its not fusion cooking. Its just bad cooking.
You can serve it as a side with the usual rice-dal-sabzi lunch or serve it as an appetizer.
Pohola or any small fish-4
Red chilli powder-1 teaspoon
Pepper powder-1 teaspoon
Pepper, crushed-1 tablespoon
Ginger, minced-1 tablespoon
Garlic, minced-1 tablespoon
Lime- one half, plus more to drizzle, if required.