The “Vanishing” Fish Curry!

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When I announced on a Sunday morning that I was going to prepare pomfret curry, (my first ever attempt), my son Rohan, who was just 6 years old then, was very excited. More than having home made fish curry for the first time, he was in fact excited at the prospect of going to the fish market, and selecting and buying the fish, and at the idea of me being in the kitchen. He is always happy when I am in the kitchen as I allow him to do certain things, like collecting and throwing the onion peels in the trash bin, fetching the knife for me, washing the tomatoes and so on. With such rich culinary experience by his side, he has now grown into an experienced cook, at the age of thirteen. He can prepare excellent Maggi, and that too in two minutes!

So off we went, father-son duo, to the Jetalpur road fish market, also my first visit ever to a fish market. Here, readers will note that I can prepare excellent mutton curry, have done it dozens of times, and that’s my only experience with non-vegetarian cooking. Had never tried fish till this day.

As we entered the fish market, I noticed there was so much noise and commotion, created by the customers who were haggling for prices and for select cuts in some cases, and the fish vendors trying to shout and market their stock at the top of their voices. It was then I realized why our Gujarati teacher always entered our class room, stood at the entrance, and waited for us to become silent, and then remarked “Oh I am so sorry, I am looking for my class room, and I seem to have entered a fish market.”

The first thing we did was, we took a round of the entire area, that gave me a bit of confidence, and I tried to make myself look like an experienced buyer, lest the lady selling the fish charged high price from me. And yes, why are the fish sellers always ladies? I have always wondered… can’t men handle ‘fishy’ business?

Finally, after taking one more round of the market, my son began to ask me as to why we weren’t actually buying! So my next step was to check a few pomfrets for their freshness. I had read somewhere, that one is supposed to check under the fins, and you would see bright red color if the fish is fresh. I went near a big pomfret, and tried to lift its fin.

Rohan partly hid behind me, and looked from there with inquisitive curiosity and a bit of anxious fear too. He must have had a feeling that with their gaping mouths, and listless, yet wide open eyes, the fish would jump at him anytime. My clumsy attempt at lifting the fin was noticed by the lady at once, and she realized I was a first time buyer. She then pushed two of her thick black fingers under the fin and lifted and thrust the whole fish towards me, “dekho saab, ekdum taaja maal hai” (Look Sir, this is fresh stock). I said “Haan theek hai… isko saaf karke dena” (Yes alright… clean this up).

A few customers, mostly Bengalis and Keralites, gave me a queer look, making me feel worried whether I was getting a fresh pomfret after all or not. The lady then expertly cut it up into a few pieces, cleaned, and gave it to us, wrapped in a plastic bag. And we then returned home with our ‘catch’. Once home, we cleaned the fish once again with lots of salt, and then washed it, and tap dried, and kept it on one side.

The first step over, I got down to get the other ingredients ready. Curry leaves, lots of garlic, coconut milk (which I had asked my wife to keep ready), chopped onions and tomatoes, a few cloves, red chilli powder, a spoonful of ‘fish masala’, tamarind paste, and turmeric.

I then took the pressure pan, my favourite cooking utensil. Once the oil was hot and ready, I added the mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions and garlic, cloves and turmeric powder, fried it all for a while, and then added chopped tomatoes. Another few minutes of frying, and in went the fish masala, tamarind paste, and finally the coconut milk. Then I let it simmer for a few minutes, and finally added in the fish pieces.

And then came the big blunder of the decade! Since I had never bothered to see a fish curry recipe, nor listen to Sanjeev Kapoor, I hadn’t the faintest idea in the world that fish takes just a few minutes to cook!

Relying purely on my mutton curry experience, and since I had always used the same pressure pan to cook meat, I just fixed the lid of the pressure pan, and adjusted the whistle. I then asked Rohan to monitor the situation, and remind me when 5 whistles were up. Rohan promptly did so. And every time the pressure released, the kitchen was full of that exotic fish curry aroma.

Finally the big moment came! It was time to take the lid off the pan and have a first look at the feat we had achieved. Rohan was there besides me, doubly excited. Once I opened the pan, the first whiff of steam came all over my face. I closed my eyes, and absorbed the aroma, and then opened my eyes to have a look inside. What I saw inside gave me a rude jolt.

The fish pieces were not there! Nothing AT ALL! Rohan and I looked at each other. For a second, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hopelessly thrust a spoon inside and tried to rummage through the curry, searching for the fish, and then I realized my mistake. The fish pieces had all simply dissolved under so much of pressure!

What our Fish Curry wasn't?
That day we had an unusual lunch - “Steaming basmati rice with disintegrated and dissolved fish curry!”

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