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Monday, August 3, 2015

Gurjali Fish En Papillote

Indian Salmon/Gurjali Mach/Rawas Machli cooked with mustard paste n green chili, carrot n green beans wrapped in French love-fish en papillote 

Here is the thing, when you wanna prepare fish en papillote, make little or medium pouch or parcels, out of parchment paper or baking paper/aluminum foil, place the fish inside the parcel before you seal in, you make the fish sit on a bed of vegetables kept on the paper, choose something that goes with that particular fish you are cooking, you add herbs or spices or any sauce, season it, then you fold the paper overlapping each fold with the prior fold so that parcel becomes sealed and steam can’t escape from it, then you place it in the oven and the fish gets cooked in its own steam inside that paper bag- that is what at the heart of cooking fish en papillote.

The flavor of the Gurjali fish reminds me of Elish/Hilsa a bit, especially the big sized ones, the flavor of a small fish is different than a matured n big one. For this recipe I chose a small to medium size, otherwise I need to make a big parcel n it won’t fit my oven. Gurjali fish is known as Rawas/Ravas/Ramus/Gurjali/Ranwa across India, often it is known as the Indian Salmon. It is beautiful to look at, though there are no play of colors on its body but shades of grey, looking at the head of a gurjali reminds me of the shark, the low sitting lower part of the jaw in the head brings the picture of shark in my mind.

In a Bengali kitchen the technique of steaming the fish is popular along with frying and making a spicy stew with fish. The method of steaming is called ‘Bhapa’ in Bengali culinary terms, which is the same thing happening in a papillote, the fish is getting steamed in a paper bag. In a Bengali kitchen the steaming takes place inside a metal bowl, sometimes the fish is warped along with spices n oil in banana leaves, then placed carefully inside a steamer. It produces incredible taste often times.

Now there are many unwritten rules when it comes to combining fishes with spices in a Bengali kitchen, each fish is combined with a particular set of spices n herbs n vegetables, there is no common set of sauce or spices that is used for every fish, as every fish has a different flavor, it is treated differently-it produces a sophisticated array of flavor spectrum. But that doesn’t mean a fish is prepared the same way across Bengal, many subtle to strong variations exist even within a popular recipe, an unwritten war exists in the mind of people arguing whose combination is best-that is the fun.

I like the combination of nigella seeds/kalonji/black cumin/kalo jeere/onion seeds n green chilies n mustard paste with the flavor of the gurjali fish. They take up the flavor of the fish to a new level, the mustard gives a kick of pungency n heat, the green chilies give away their amazing savory flavor and the nigella seeds give away their smooth mellow flavor, it’s delicious. I made a bed of carrot ribbons n green beans n few slices of ginger on which the fish sat while being steamed inside the parcel n it was all in harmony. I know you want to give it a try, so it is time for the recipe.

Pre-heat the oven to 190 Celsius/375 Fahrenheit/Gas mark 5 

For The Recipe: You will need
Gurjali fish- 1 medium about 400-500 gm
Mustard paste- 1 tbsp, you can use mustard powder, readymade mustard paste
Kalonji/Nigella seeds- ½ tsp
Green chilies- 2
Mustard oil- 4 tbsp
Carrot- 1 medium, made into ribbons with a peeler
Green beans- 50 gm, chopped into 1 inch pieces
Ginger- ½ tsp, cut into stripes
Sugar- 1 small pinch
Lime -1 medium, cut into round thin slices
Turmeric- ¼ tsp
Red chili powder- 1 pinch

You need a parchment or baking paper, cut a 2ft/2ft square, fold the paper in half, draw the biggest half heart shape on one half, then open it n it will become a heart shape, cut it out, smear some mustard oil on top the paper where the fish will sit.

1. First lets prepare the mustard paste, so in a heavy stone mortar n pestle or grinder, take 1 tbsp of black mustard seeds along with 1 green chili n a pinch of salt and make it into a paste, then thin the paste down with 2 tbsp of water and strain it through a sieve, the black husks will separate out this way.
2. Put a frying pan on medium heat, add 2 tbsp of mustard oil , when the oil is smoking, reduce flame to low, add 1 slit whole green chili, the kalonji seeds, then add the mustard paste, mix it well, add the turmeric, a small pinch of red chili powder, sugar, on a low heat give it 5 minutes stirring in between until the water has almost evaporated, if the water dries completely in between sprinkle a little water, we want the final sauce thick but still like a paste so that we can apply it on the fish. When done take the sauce in a bowl. In the same pan add the rest 2tbsp of mustard oil n heat it until it begins to smoke, then put the flame off and let it cool down.
3. So now take the fish, make sure the scales are removed n the guts taken out, then score the fish at regular intervals with a sharp knife, but don’t go too deep to the bone, then mix the mustard paste with the mustard oil and coat the fish well with this mixture, making sure the scored parts are well rubbed with this paste, with a sharp knife open up the part just under the gills and apply the paste over there. Now on the greased part and one half of the heart shape of the paper make a bed of the carrot ribbons, beans n ginger, sprinkle little salt over them,  season the fish with salt on both sides and lay it on this bed. Put 2 round thin slices of lime on the fish.
4. So now fold the other half of paper back on the fish and start from the bottom of the heart, make one fold, then pick up from around the middle of the first fold and make another fold, so we have overlapping 2 folds, now make 3rd fold overlapping the 2nd fold and go on until you reach the top part of the heart, before you put the final fold pour 1 tbsp of water inside the parcel, press down on all the fold carefully and on the top n bottom part fold the folds again so that they don’t open up easily, if you see any fold open up, press it or make another fold over them, when the oven is ready place the parcel on a baking sheet and place it in the middle of the oven and give it about 10/15 minutes. Most fishes are done in 10 minutes; since the fish was big I gave it 5 more minutes.
5. You will see the parcel will puff up as you approach the finishing time and the baking paper will start to color a bit n it will becomes translucent. So take it out of the oven and get ready with a scissor.

Bring the parcel to the dining table where everyone is sitting, this is the moment, cut open the parcel n let the steam hit everybody with the aroma of the fish...watch their faces n then dig in. Bon App├ętit.