Fish Fry

12:15 PM

Both my parents have an aversion towards eating outside food. Though baba loves his share of Telebhaja from the roadside tea shops but when it comes to eating a whole meal out, they are never game for it.They dislike it so much that whenever we took our vacation they preferred home stays or the guesthouses where you can cook your own meal. and still packs their own tiffin carrier when travelling for long. 

While growing up this was a cause of disappointment in us. Not that we had much option in the small Mufassil town where we grew up but every time we visited Kolkata to do our Puja and Nababarsho shopping we wanted to sit and eat at those shiny pretty restaurants. But maa very religiously will make us eat a small portion of rice-dal-fish meal at an ungodly hour of the morning before heading out for shopping. And if that was not enough when our tired soul would demand for a break and some food she invariably would take out a small tiffin box full of sandwiches or other snacks. The worst part was none of my relatives thought differently and followed the same tradition.

So after every vacation, when my friends would talk about their glorious trips with all the new places and new cuisines they had discovered, I listened to it carefully but with a ....on my face chomping away the homemade piece of cake or paratha Maa would make for my snack box.

My first taste of outside food with my parents were when I passed the 12th. I did quite well and was eligible for the top notch colleges of Kolkata like Presidency and St. Xavier's. On one very hot summer afternoon my parents took me to college street to sit for the admission test of Presidency college. After the test got over it was almost dark and all of us were hungry. My Uncle's place in Ballygunj was quite far from there and so we went to Mitra Cafe for a quick bite.

Mitra Cafe with its unappealing small size and ambiance failed to impress me at a first sight and I grudgingly sat on the small wooden chairs. 

While ordering baba talked about this place being their favourite during the college days and while talking the fish fry and prawn cutlet arrived on the table. They were huge and smelled heavenly. The not so thin fillets of Bhetki soaked all the flavour from the marinade and it's fleshy, aromatic inside paired perfectly well with the crunchy outer layer. Truly Blissful when dipped into the pungent aam Kasundi (Bengali mustard and raw mango condiment).

After that when I moved to Kolkata, every trip to Collage street Baba would invariably brought those fries home, and we loved digging our teeth in them. Time went by and I drifted away to other cities, moved countries and it's only this Jauary after almost a decade I got a chance to visit that quaint little Cafe once again. The day we visited Prawn Cutlets were not available but the taste and crunch of the fish fry is still the same. 

May be now it tasted better as with time I have become wise (I would like to think that way) and had learned that no matter how much we want to own, Fish fry is not an original Bengali recipe. It rather is a high-breed recipe born in the Indian kitchens of the British officials who were posted in Kolkata on East India Co.'s behalf. As much as they tried to follow their own tradition of food, culture and festivities, the unavailability of authentic ingredients and the different circumstances forced them to modify their recipes to a great extent. More changes came when the Memsahibs tried to train their Indian cooks. They with their ingenious ways incorporated Indian spices to Western soups, stews and bakes. Though the fish and chips loving Britishers longed for seafood but the popular sweet water fishes like Rohu or Carp hardly ever appealed to their tastebuds. Nor they possessed the skill to debone the fish neither they had the patience. The fish with it's fewer bones that was easier to Fillet was Betki and in no time it became the most sought after variety in their kitchen.

Later when as a result of Bengali Renaissance a new class of eager to explore Indian sahibs or brown sahibs came into existence, the demand for these fillets became high. The Indians after their higher studies in West, came back with a taste for Western dishes and demanded them in their own home kitchen. The Bawarchees, mostly the muslims of Midnapore, Mogs of Chattagram and Domingos started marinating them in Indian spices, breading and frying them for evening snacks. Thus were born many new dishes like Fish fry, Kobiraji or Coverage, Prawn cutlets, Chops (from Rissole) etc.

Similarly in the 'Other Kitchen' of the Brown Sahib that belonged to her wife or widowed mother, similar dishes were being invented with pure Vegetarian preferences. Banana flower, raw jackfruits were used to make chops of various kinds to satisfy the palate of the puritans. 

Mitra Cafe, founded in 1920 still bears that part of history and serve these hybrid dishes which is a big part of Bengali culinary map right now. This small almost 26 seater almost obscure place might look unappealing to some but it's specialty is the food that still talks for itself.

I saw this recipe on a Bengali channel where the owner of Mitra Cafe tought a few of his culinary gems with the viewers. I try to follow that everytime I cook fish fry and it gives me great results.

Fish Fry

Bekti or any other white fish fillets: 300 gms
Lemon juice: 1/2 tsp
Ginger garlic paste: 1 tbsp
Onion paste: 2 tsps
Green chili paste: 1/2 tsp
Pepper powder: 1/2 tsp
Mustard oil: 1 tbsp
sugar: a fat pinch
Ajinomoto: a fat pinch

Egg: 1

Bread crumbs for crumb coating
White oil: for deep frying

Thinly slice the fillets lengthwise and then cut them in half. It;s best if the fish mongers do that for you as that way you will get slices with even thickness. Or you can very well do it but make sure the knife you are using is big and very very sharp.

In a flat big bowl mix everything together for the marinade. give it a good whisk and taste the seasoning. place the fillets in it carefully and give them a good rub. Cover with a cling film and marinade at least for 2-4 hours. If in a hot and humid place best way to do is to put it in the fridge. At the end of the marination time break the egg directly into this and mix everything together. Depending on the amount of fish you might use less amount of egg (just break and whisk in a bowl and use as much you think is needed.

Mix the breadcrumb with little salt and pepper powder and place in a wide flat bowl. 

Take a fillet of fish and shake off the excess liquid. Place it in the crumb mix and coat both sides. Then put pressure with your palm to coat as much crumb is needed for a good breading. do it on all the sides. Use a blunt knife to press from the sides to give it a proper shape. Place on a plate until you are ready to fry.

Heat white oil and fry the fillets on medium till golden brown. Drain the excess oil and serve immediately with some julienne salad and Bengali mustard sauce or Kasundi.

Make sure to clean the frying oil by taking out the fried crumb bits or the oil will become cloudy and the fries will get a burnt taste and smell.

A Homemaker's Notes:
The original recipe do not use onion paste.
for 6 pieces of fries I used little more than half of a big egg.
to make fish finger cut the fillets in thin strips and follow the same process. Reduce the marination time to 30-60 minutes.

Event: to KFB's Monsoon event.

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