In my quest to understand the different cuisines on the west coast of India, and the subtle differences between them, I was asked to go to Mumbai to meet one Mr Almeida.
Chef Almeida was a Goan by birth and though he was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, he was considered an authority on Goan food.
He was on a short visit to India from New York, where he was then based. My job was to understand the ‘cuisine of Goa’. No mean feat!
We met at the Shamiana restaurant at the Bombay Taj and my crash-course on Goan food began. . .
Chef Almeida went on to tell me how there were at least two distinct styles of cooking in Goa.
One belonged to the Hindus (both Brahmins and non-Brahmins) and the other to the Christians (again, Brahmins and non-Brahmins). You see, the Christians were converts of both these castes. Then there were the Muslims which must add a third – but I waited to hear what he had to say.
The Christians used vinegar in their cooking whereas the Hindus preferred kokum as a souring agent.
Tamarind was used by both the communities but preferred by the Muslims.
Lamb and chicken were the preferred meat of the Hindus. The Muslims liked lamb and the Christians ate everything, including pork !!
“But,” he said, “Son, whatever their religious or ethnic background, they all eat caril de piexe, or otherwise famously known as Goan fish!!”
This dish is soul food of the Goan people and the famous poet from Goa, Bakibab Borkar, describes this favourite dish with great emotion.
He says that if the God of death, or Yama, were to come tonight, you could most certainly hear these words being spoken:
Please Sir, Mr God of Death
Don’t make it my turn today,
there is fish curry for dinner.
You can’t say it better than that! So, without further ado, here it is, folks, a soulful Goan fish dish.
1. 1 red onion, sliced
2. 1 1/2 tablespoon tamarind extract
3. 3-4 green chillies, sliced (with the seeds, of course!)
4. Salt, to taste
5. 1/2 kg fish fillets of snapper (preferred for this recipe), or ling, or barramundi (my favourite!!)
6. 2 cups of water
1. 6-8 dried red chillies (preferably Kashmiri or combination of dry chillies), soaked in a tablespoon of brown vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water
2. 8-10 black peppercorns
3. 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
4. 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
5. 2 tablespoon crushed garlic
6. 1/2 fresh coconut, grated
7. 1 cup water, extra
Method for the masala:
1. Place the coconut and turmeric in a blender along with the soaked chillies, coriander seeds, peppercorns, garlic, water and grind everything to a fine paste. Keep the masala in an airtight container in the refrigerator, if not using it right away. (It will keep for up to 1 week in the fridge.)
Method for the caril de piexe:
1. In a pot, add the masala, along with 2 cups of water and the sliced onion.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, over moderate heat.
3. Add the tamarind concentrate and reduce the heat. Cook for about 2 minutes.
4. Add the salt and the chillies. Cook for a few more minutes, until the chillies release their aroma.
5. Now add the fish and cook for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.
When making Goan Fish, remember:
1. Soaking the chillies in vinegar helps bring out their bright colour when ground.
2. You can use coconut cream instead of fresh coconut. I have found the ‘Kara’ brand of coconut cream to be very consistent and ‘rich’.
3. Add the fish to the cooked masala [sauce], and allow the fish to cook over a moderate heat. Do not stir.
4. The dish is best eaten the day after it is made. This allows the flavours to mature fully and to permeate through the fish.
Serve it with a steaming hot sanna, or brown rice, or sticky white rice.
The sign of a ‘good’ Goan fish dish is when your eyes get red and sweat starts pouring all over your face and you say, “Vindaloo, what is that? That’s nothing in comparison to this. This is rocket fuel!!” This is food for the soul and body, Goan style, in extremis!
Remember though, never drink water to try to ‘cool’ yourself down.
Do what the Goan does. Just have a glass or two of Feni!!
Anna Daata Sukhi Bhava!!