Fish Assad | Pondicherry style fish curry

Pondicherry means a lot of different things to people – beautiful French style street houses and cobbled stone roads just off the beach (that feature in every Tamil movie song and even in commercials now), Auroville (not been there yet, so won’t smart-mouth that), street shopping (my friend Priya tells me it’s worth driving down to Pondicherry for just that), cheaper car registrations.. But to Chennai men, it means just one thing – Booze heaven. Pondicherry is a union territory you see, so a lot of things are cheaper there – petrol, car registrations and booze being the most important ones. From Chennai, Pondicherry is a 3-hour car ride down the scenic and now traffic and accident prone East Coast road (ECR). I call ECR scenic by Chennai standards. You’ll get to see the beach as you drive along ECR and that’s scenic for us (Kaaka Kaaka movie, “Ennai konjam maatri” style. Open hair in a jeep wouldn’t work for us, common girls. So don’t try that). The area just off the beach is like a little French town. The restaurants are all named “Le Blah”, “La Duh” and they serve francized Indian food and authentic French or Italian food and they charge at euro rates. We ate at one of these restaurants going by the reviews on a popular restaurant portal and were terribly disappointed. There are antique stores and craft stores that also operate in the same vein. Behind this pretty French part of the town is a kind of canal, beyond which lies the Indian Pondicherry. Pondicherry is predominantly Tamil and most Tamil families in Pondicherry cook Tamil style food – Rice, Sambar, Idli, Dosai and the likes. My grandfather was from Pondicherry and “Pondicherry” is part of my father’s name. The Franco-Pondicherry food as Lourdes Tirouvanziam describes in her book “The Pondicherry Kitchen”, is very similar to Tamil food. I tried the Fish Assad from her book (recipe here) and it turned out great but it is remarkably similar to the Fish Kurma that we make. It’s creamy, delicately spiced and yummy with steamed rice. I’ve not come across restaurants that serve Franco Pondicherry food in Pondicherry (only fake-Indian food); but I’ll give it a try if I find one. Prep time: 20 mins Cooking time: 20 mins Serves: 4 Ingredients Sea Bass – 1/4 kg, cut into strips or smallish pieces (You can use Seer...

Meen Kuzhambu

Meen Kuzhambu is TamilNadu’s pride. It is something we can safely call ours, originally conceived and prepared (and being prepared) in TamilNadu. No fusion-confusion here. I am recent convert. I wasn’t a Meen Kuzhambu fan earlier. In fact I am not a huge fan of Kuzhambu in general. But I have slowly started to appreciate the nuances of a well-made Meen Kuzhambu – soft, flaky perfectly cooked fish drenched in a wonderful medley of hot, tangy and spicy kuzhambu.  Meen Kuzhambu tastes best with hot steamed rice and hot pan fried fish fillets. It also goes splendidly well with Idli or Dosai. Making a good Meen kuzhambu they say is an art, not everybody can do it. I’d like to disagree. A good Meen Kuzhambu is a piece of art but I think if you can master the 3 important components of making the Meen Kuzhambu, you can make some beautiful art too. The first, most important component of it is the cleaning part. If you’ve cleaned the fish well, you’re kuzhambu will not smell fishy. Make sure to scale the fish thoroughly by scrubbing the fishes, skin side down on a coarse stone. Once scrubbed properly (you should see whitish scaly stuff run out), the skin side should be a wee bit coarse and not as slippery and smooth as before being scaled. Rinse well in 2 or 3 changes of water. The second component is extracting the tamarind juices. Now, this seems too trivial but it isn’t. The proof of the kuzhambu is in the puli (tamarind). Soaking the tamarind in water for about half an hour makes it easier to extract the juices. Once you’ve extracted the first juices, add water in small increments (half a cup at a time) squeeze and extract the juices and strain. Repeat till you have the strained tamarind juice which is roughly the same amount as the amount of Kuzhambu you’ll finally end up with. By adding small increments of water, you extract better without diluting too much. The third component is about getting the consistency right. Meen Kuzhambu is not a very thick kuzhambu, but it shouldn’t be too runny either. Usually when the kuzhambu boils, it is time to drop in the fishes. At this stage do the back of a ladle/karandi test to check if the kuzhambu lightly coats the back of the ladle/karandi. If it doesn’t, then...
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