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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Banana Leaf Pan Fried Topse /Mango Fish

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.

For The Recipe:  You will need
For the Fish
250 gm Topse fish, scaled n washed
2 tbsp of red chili powder
2 tsp of turmeric powder
3-4 tbsp of mustard oil
3 rectangular slices of fresh banana leaf, about 12 inches in length and 9 inches in width
A heavy bottomed fry pan

For the Salsa
1 medium cucumber, chopped into 1 cm square slices
1 medium red tomato chopped similarly
1 medium red onion chopped finely
½ lime
1 tbsp of freshly chopped coriander leaves
1 green chili seeded and sliced length-ways
Salt to taste

1. For the salsa mix everything together, sprinkle the lime juice on them and add salt, give a mix and let it rest while we prepare the fish.

2. Let’s begin by washing the leaves carefully with soft hands or we will pierce them, even if they get pierced slightly nothing to worry, they can be overlapped with a piece of leaf underneath them so that the juices don’t leak into the pan. Wipe the leaves dry, we are gonna fry the fish on the opposite side of the surface that faces the sunlight.

3. Score the fish 1 time at each side, in a bowl sprinkle the spices n the salt on the fish, coat the fishes on both sides with the spices mixture, then add 1 tbsp of mustard oil and coat the fishes well in the oil. Take another tbsp of oil and smear the oil on the surface of the leaf where the fish is going to be fried. Then arrange the fish on the leaf side by side and add the rest of the spices that remains in the bowl, add 1 tbsp of water in the bowl and mix the remaining spices and pour the water on the fish.

4. Place the heavy bottomed pan on high heat initially, place one banana leaf on the pan and then on top of that place the leaf with fishes carefully, we will let the pan to get to a higher temperature initially. Cover the fish with a lead and Give about 4 minutes on high heat and soon we will begin to hear the sound of the leaf making sounds being heated, when the pan is well heated reduce the flame to low. Being covered give them another 5 minutes, lift the lead in between and you will see water has come out of the fishes. After about 8 minutes remove the lid and the water in the pan will soon dry out and the fishes will approach a fried stage. Rotate the top leaf on which the fish is getting fried so that all the fish is getting equally fried, rotate by holding their corners. After 10 minutes with spoon or spatula lift a fish to see if they have started to brown, if they have browned slightly give them 2 more minutes or if we are not aiming to brown them too much we can turn them over now.

5. So now it is time to turn the fishes over, for that take a fresh leaf and keep aside. Now holding one corner of the leaf in the pan drag it off the pan onto a plate carefully, put a fresh leaf on top of the fishes on the plate and turn the plate over by placing your hand on the back of the fresh leaf. So now the fish has been turned over like this all at the same time, place the fresh leaf back into the pan, sprinkle 1 tbsp of mustard oil across the pan and cover them for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes remove the lead and give them 4-5 more minutes, check to see by lifting the fish slightly if they have browned. Once there drag the leaf by its corner onto a plate. And we are done.

Serve the fried fish with the salsa and some white rice and experience the new taste! Bon Appetit!

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