Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Secret Love

I have an embarrassing secret to share. In the last week, I have begun a clandestine love affair. With a fish.

As with any affair freshly begun, we can scarcely get enough of each other. Stolen moments in a biryani shop. Lusty thoughts in a market as the long and lean torso is teasingly displayed before me in all its delectable silvery nakedness. Sorry...

It all began innocently enough. I went up to our local market to purchase a fish in order to make a fish biryani. I've bought several fish from the market this way, and I started off my fishy forays with a few snapper, which are kind of similar to our local rockfish, those spiny, scaly, butt ugly, and incredibly tasty fish we see swimming around in salt water tanks in the Vancouver's Chinatown. On this day, tiring of the monotony of snapper, I instead opted for a little tuna. These little guys are smaller than the albacore tuna we see in the Pacific Northwest, and they showed promise. After the fishmonger had it eviscerated and cut up into little chunks, I took it home, fried it up, and put it into my biryani. In a highly uncharacteristic display of selflessness, I put some in a pot and decided to take it next door as a gift for our landlords Stanley and Gee Gee, who are in the habit of routinely inundating us with food items at all hours of the day and night. When I arrived and rang the bell at their house, Stanley opened it, looking a little surprised to see me. I handed him the pot, puffed out my chest, and proudly announced "Fish Biryani! Made with fresh tuna!" He looked crestfallen, and did that clicking sound/sucking air thing I've described a few times. Shaking his head, and with as much tact as his limited English would allow, he said "Tuna no good. Kingfish better". The wind was definitely out of my sails, but to his credit, he didn't slam the door, and instead, graciously accepted the pot. He returned the pot the next day, filled with spicy pork curry and tapioca root. Again, he felt compelled to reiterate "Kingfish better". It was a thin line. I'm pretty sure he was trying to be helpful, and steer me towards a better quality fish experience. On the other hand, maybe he was just being a dink.

So... kingfish, eh... I had to know more. I went back to the market and chatted up my fishmonger friend. I discovered that kingfish is sometimes called "sailfish" here, which is ironic due to the fact that it really has no dorsal fin to speak of, much less a sail. I also made the discovery that kingfish is about three to four times the cost of most other fish, costing about 300 Rs/kilo. It is one of the few food-related instances in India where the Bailey Law Of Inverse Expectations does not apply. In this case, you truly get what you pay for. Immediately, I was seduced by this fish. Long and lean, these silver beauties can reach 3 or 4 feet long, and weigh close to thirty pounds. It seems as they are built to swim fast and eat, and little else, as their torpedo-like bodies are basically one big slab of firm, buttery tasting flesh. Imagine a four foot sausage made of serrano ham that knew how to swim. It has hardly any bone, beyond its spine, so the body is just meat, meat, and more meat. I could not wait to get this baby back to my place, put on some music and my sexiest lunghi, and have my way with it.

There is a great method of preparing fish in Kerala that I have tried my best to duplicate here. It involves cutting the fish up into chunks, and marinating it in a spicy, garlicky, and sour masala. After bathing in this majestic marinade for a period of time, each piece is fried in coconut oil until just cooked through. Dust with a little salt, and voila... ready to be eaten as is, with maybe a little cucumber and onion salad on the side, or included as a layer in a fish biryani. This fish is so good that we've had it 4 out of the last 5 nights. I'm going to make a fish curry with it tonight. If you want to try to strike up an affair of your own with this exotic beauty, you may have some difficulty. You might be able to find this fish frozen in slices in an Asian or Punjabi market, but you're really better off using fresh halibut, or even mahi mahi. Salmon won't work as well, and red snapper or cod is perhaps too flaky of a texture. So here's the deal.

750 grams of kingfish, halibut, mahi mahi, or any other firm fleshed white fish.
3 tbsp of ground black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp chili powder
approx 1 tbsp coconut vinegar, or apple cider vinegar, just enough to make a paste with all the dry ingredients
6 cloves of garlic
1 inch of fresh ginger root
salt to taste

In a mortar and pestle, mash the ginger, garlic, and salt together to form a paste
mix this in a bowl with the dry ingredients, adding the coconut vinegar get a paste that is not too runny.
Add the fish chunks to the large bowl containing the paste, and mix it all up with your hands, making sure that all the fish is covered with a coating of marinade.
clover the bowl, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Overnight is best.

Put a couple or three inches of coconut oil in wok, and heat it up.
Fry the fish a couple of pieces at a time, turning as needed.
Drain each piece against the side of the wok to remove excess oil, and place on a plate covered with paper towel.
Dust immediately with some good non- iodized salt.
Repeat as necessary

Dim the lights. Make sensual yummy sounds. Soon you will be as hopelessly head over heels in love as we all are. The trick is in trying to keep this clandestine affair from spiralling out of control and taking over your life. But Stanley was right...

"Kingfish better".


Chris said...

Damn! I could have used this recipe before I went to Hawaii for two weeks and got sick of eating fresh Mahi Mahi...mmmmmm...

Having said that, are you sure you are in love with the fish? I mean anything fried in two or three INCHES of coconut oil is bound to induce unmitigated affection, no?

Rob Bailey said...

Yes, but to quote the old Crisco ad, "it all comes back except for a teaspoon!". As for the fish, well... it's purely physical.

neelima said...

I agree with you Rob,king fisher tastes great with the recipe you gave and nothing can beat the fresh fish!
loving every post of yours