I braved my first visit to a fish walla the other day and served up a pan of something I’d never tasted or heard of before our stay in India; black pomfret.
I’m what a lot of people call a “seafood snob” and rarely venture beyond anything that is Alaskan, local and super fresh. I don’t buy fish in the grocery store. If I didn’t harvest it myself or know the person who did, then I don’t eat it or serve it to my family. I rarely order seafood in restaurants. The regular exception to this has been at the Delaware seashore at the O’Donoghue family place in Bethany Beach. There’s a crab house right across our beachfront condo called “Mickey’s.” I’ll eat crab there (yes, even softshell), but that’s about it. We missed the usual dipnet trek to Chitina this year as we left June 20. The goal in the weeks leading up to our great Indian adventure involved eating up everything in the freezer and pantry, not adding to it. So no fresh salmon before we left.
Three months into living in India, and I was getting mighty hungry for some fish. Fish is available in many markets, including the three main grocery stores I frequent. But being the noted fish snob, I was hesitant. The flies and the smell have been a turnoff. My neighbor Paroma, a Bengali who knows her seafood, suggested a fish stand that can be counted on for fresh, good fish. Xavier and I took off to find it the other day and unfortunately, it was closed. Xavier knew of another place and, feeling brave, we went there.
I settled on the pomfret because it looked fresh and had the least amount of flies buzzing around it. I insisted on smelling the pomfret before I bought it. The fish monger’s helper scaled it for me, cut it up into steaks and put it in a bag. It hadn’t been gutted, which alarmed me a bit.
At home, I cut out the guts from each steak, rinsed the fish really well in filtered tap water, patted it dry and put it back in the fridge. I perused the web, looking for a way to cook black pomfret. I found something on a blog called Raksha’s Kitchen, at rakshaskitchen.blogspot.com, and modified it a bit to suit my personal tastes. Here’s what I did:
Make a paste with the following:
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoon’s chilly powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
Fresh-squeezed lime juice from two small limes
I coated each fish steak with this paste and set it in the fridge to marinate for a bit. Then I sliced up about an inch or two of fresh root ginger, about five pods of fresh garlic and about a quarter cup chopped purple onion (the only kind of onion I’ve been able to find in India). With about two tablespoons of oil heated up in a flat pan over a medium flame, I sauteed the ginger, garlic and onion. On top of these I carefully put the salmon, er, I mean, pomfret steaks. (See, I can’t even write about fish without auto-piloting the word “salmon!”)
I cooked these steaks a little bit longer than I would fresh salmon steaks as I just wasn’t sure how they’d taste. They sort of fell apart when transferring from the pan to the plate, but they were extremely tasty, I’m happy to report. We ate them with a salad (more about my adventures with salad in India later) and a loaf of fresh French bread from my favorite grocery store in Pune, Dorabjee’s.
No fish dinner is complete without a chilled glass of chardonnay, in my opinion. I’ve tried some Indian wines several times but I can’t personally recommend a particular one at this time that I like. Brian has been good about hunting down a selection in Pune of chards from California, New Zealand, Australia and even France. Hopefully I’ll come across a wonderful Indian wine to pass on later!