Topse Fish Pan-Fried n Steamed on a Banana leaf served with cucumber salsa
Welcome to the next level of pan-frying! Instead of simple pan-frying vegetables, fish n chicken we can fry them on a fresh sheet of banana leaf placed on the pan-and the result? The vegetables, fish or chicken embedded in the earthy beautiful flavor of the banana leaf, sometimes acquiring a charred surface depending on the heat and reflecting a taste of barbecue with the banana leaf flavor. Sounds complex enough? It is indeed, the flavors n textures developed in layers but amazingly simple technique of cooking things, just like the way I pan-fried the Topse fish on the banana leaf.
This technique right now may sound like a new way of cooking to you but the truth is far from it, in fact it comes right from history-the past. Across many civilizations around the globe similar technique of cooking has been discovered where the food ingredients are wrapped in leaves and then smoked, steamed, fried, poached. The cooked ingredients inside the leaf stay moist because the leaf protects them from direct exposure to heat, at times they get cooked in their own steam resulting well developed flavors plus the flavor of the leaf gets intimately coated with the inside things.
The Topse Fish is small fish, they have a certain orange or saffron hue to them and they look beautiful. In English I think they are called Mango Fish and I’m not sure why they have such name, I would rather call them saffron fish. Perhaps the orange-ish hue reminds of the color of ripe mangoes. While some people say that on the web, some say the word ‘Topse’ derives from the Hindi/Bengali word ‘Tapaswi’ –meaning a wise man who meditates, they often wear clothing in orange shades, so again in the similarity of the color the fish perhaps acquired its name. Even though the fish is small, it is popular fish and well priced. Being a soft fish it takes literally minutes to cook and quite often they are marinated and then dipped in a batter and then deep fried, producing the crispy outside and soft fleshy inside. Another popular Bengali preparation involves partly frying the fish and then simmered in light gravy with aubergine/egg-plant slices.
Today however we are gonna pan-fry them on banana leaves and they are gonna be just very good. Before frying the fish is coated in 2 basic spices, turmeric and red chili powder. When the leaf fried fish is prepared to be eaten with white rice, the amount of spices are increased more than needed because when combined with white rice the excess spice coating on the fish provided flavor for the neutral white rice, the white rice is mixed with the extra spice coating on the fish and served with the fish, thus the neutral rice gets balanced by the intense flavors from the spices.
However when the fish is not intended to be served with rice, the spices are reduced almost by half but just to compliment the fish. Another source of flavor comes from the mustard oil; the deep golden mustard oil has slight pungency to it. the fish can be fried on the leaf to 2 different stages, one is just when the fish is done on both sides, soft, succulent and the other stage is when the fish starts to get charred on the sides, being blackish in color, at this stage it is developing a charcoal like flavor because the leaf underneath has burned. So both the stages have their own flavors to be enjoyed.
This technique of cooking vegetables, fish on banana leaves comes from the neighboring country of Bangladesh, perhaps. In many of the recipes fish, prawns, other sea food, hard boiled eggs and vegetables are cooked wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed or fried.
In this process two things are happening simultaneously, while the fish is being pan-friend on the leaves, they are covered with a lead, so the fish starts to get partly steamed in the water that comes out of it, so the process of pan-frying and steaming both at work.
Banana leaves are one of the many options, if you love the flavor of a certain leaf, go for it, you may surprise yourself!
So right now I will tell you about this unique recipe. In this recipe we are intending to serve fish with white rice, if you want to serve the fish on their own reduce the spices by almost half or even three quarters according to your taste.
Serve the fried fish with the salsa and some white rice and experience the new taste! Bon Appetit!