Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Malabar Fish Fry

If there was ever a meal that could be considered to be universal, one that could cross boundaries or even oceans, it should be a fish fry.  Cultures around the global make a meal -- indeed, an event -- out of frying abundant, cheap local fish.  Back in the Midwest, where I was born and raised, a fish fry was almost a weekly event.  Numerous restaurants would advertise "all-you-can-eat" fried fish.  Customers could double down on the fried experience by getting their fried fish with french fries.  Cue the All in the Family theme, "those were the days."

I still have fond memories of going with my family to a local restaurant for a fish fry.  I would stuff my self with all the fish I could eat.  It was most often fried perch or fried catfish, thickly battered and deep fried.  I would devour fillet after fillet of deep-fried, heavily battered fish.  This was long before I knew about there were good or bad kinds of cholesterol, saturated or unsaturated fats.   When I was a kid, my focus was singularly on the fish.

Halfway around the world, I am sure there were children having the same enjoyable experience.   Take, for example, children in the Indian state of Kerala.  One of the boundaries of Kerala in the north is a long coastline, known as the Malabar Coast.  All along that thin coastline, there are cities with people who depend upon the ocean for their meals.  The abundant supply of seafood makes a fish fry a logical meal for many families.  The fish would be those native to the waters, such as bullseye or sardines, most likely whatever the fishermen brought back in their boats on that particular day. .

I recently came across a recipe for a Malabar Fish Fry and knew that it was something that I had to make. Rather than battered fish, this simple fish fry recipe features a rub consisting of turmeric, chiles, garlic and ginger.  The only issue that I faced  was the fish.  Bullseye are no where to be found where I live.  Sardines are a hit or miss.  The recipe suggests salmon, shrimp or snapper, but I decided to go another route.  I chose catfish, one of the fishes from my childhood fish fry courses, for two reasons.  The first is that the thickness of the fillets stands up well to frying.  Second, catfish is cheaper than snapper or salmon.

Finally, I thought the combination of red chile powder and turmeric would be spicy, but not overbearing or inedible.  The heat was perfectly fine for me; however, my beautiful Angel found the rub to be too spicy for her to eat.  This was only the second time that I made a dish that was too spicy for Clare.  (Interestingly, the other dish was another Indian-inspired dish, my Soft Shell Curry, Goan-Style.)  Although I really wanted to make something for my beautiful Angel, it just meant that I had seconds.   Just like when I was a kid.

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 2

1 pound of catfish fillets
1 1/2 tablespoons of red chile powder (such as cayenne)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
1 one-inch piece of ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste
Kosher salt, to taste
1/4 cup of coconut or canola oil

1.  Prepare the fish.  Rinse fish and pat dry using paper towels.  Mix chile powder, turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt and 2 tablespoons of water in a bowl to make a paste.  Rub over fish and let the fish sit for 10 minutes.

2.  Cook the fish.  Heat oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high.  Cook fish, flipping once, until crisp and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.


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