Amritsari Fish Fry
It was my parents’ wedding anniversary on 19th March and we planned to hold a small party at our home. As usual, I got excited about the menu. But one thing kind of acted as a spoiler – it was a weekday and that meant I would have to come back from office and cook. So, essentially, the menu could not include elaborate dishes that required much preparation and cooking time.
I was at work when the idea of making a fish fry struck me. It actually happened during a casual chatter among us during lunch time. K, the only pure vegetarian colleague in our department, had innocently remarked that the Bengali family living in the apartment below hers regularly fried fish and that she could not bear the smell. That sparked off a lively discussion regarding fried fish among us non-vegetarians, much to her dismay. We recalled every fried fish dish that we had come across and most of us agreed that Amritsari Fish Fry beat Tawa Fried Fish quite hollow. K, in the meantime, was hurriedly shoving food in her mouth to finish her lunch and escape from listening to such a conversation!
And so, as I was getting up from the lunch table, it hit me that Amritsari Fish Fry would be the perfect starter for the party. It did not require much time or many ingredients and it was a dish that I had cooked many times previously. In other words, a safe recipe was at hand. I dialled the husband instantly. “Listen, we need to buy fish on the way home.” And I hung up with a content mind.
This is where the story falters a bit. We could not find fish. None of the shops had good, fresh fish. Maybe the fact that it was a weekday when people did not have much time to cook non-vegetarian meals had something to do with this. Maybe, I don’t know. Finally, we settled for a fairly okay Rohu fish. But that fellow also got poorly cut, or rather mauled, by the fishmonger. We shook our heads sadly and that was all we could do.
Anyhow, the fish fry was quite appreciated by the guests and the special couple alike, that day. Now, the husband prefers his fish to be fried till it is almost reddish brown, while I prefer it to be a simple golden brown. So, that is what you can see in the photographs – mine and his favourites. You can take your pick!
Amritsari Fish Fry
6-8 pieces of any firm white fish
1 tablespoon lemon/lime juice
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon each of cumin powder, coriander powder and red chilli powder (or Kashmiri Mirch powder if you want the colour but not the heat)
1 teaspoon ajwain (carom seeds)
½ cup yoghurt (increase the amount if required)
1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
2 tablespoons rice flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Refined oil for deep frying
Marinate the fish with lime juice, salt and pepper for around half an hour.
Combine all the other ingredients (except oil) to make a batter of medium consistency. In case it is too thick, add some more yoghurt. Or if it turns out too runny, add some besan. I find it very difficult to give the exact measurements as I myself keep on adding either besan or yoghurt to achieve the right consistency. Do not forget to add a pinch of salt and pepper to the batter. You can also add minced ginger and garlic to the batter to enhance the flavour.
Now, dip the fish pieces in the batter and deep fry them till they are cooked and turn a golden brown. Lift the fish carefully off the hot oil and place on paper napkins to soak the excess oil.
Sprinkle some chat masala over them and serve with any chutney or dip of your choice. Mint chutney mixed with yoghurt goes best with Amritsari Fish Fry but since I did not have any mint leaves at home, I served the fish with some mustard.
The first time I had made this dish I had not used eggs and rice flour. The fish had then stuck to the bottom of the wok and made the crispy layer fall off. I think this new, improved version of addition of eggs and rice flour helps to bind the batter well with the fish and lends a crispier touch to the finished product. Besides, the ajwain lends an amazing flavour, too.
Although the fish that evening was badly cut and was not super fresh, the spicy batter managed to make the dish a hit among the guests. It actually reminded me of my MBA days in Delhi when we would be munching on these fried delicacies off the roadside stalls in the winters. The fish would not be very fresh and yet you just could not fight against the taste. Maybe I should thank my vegetarian friend for the success of the starter. Then again, I wonder if she would appreciate that.
Bye for now, take care!