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Category Archives: fish

Semolina crusted Karwari style fish (or barramundi!)

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

This week I want to share this simple, yet delicious, crusted fish dish.

The best ever crumbed fish dish I’ve eaten was in India where they used the kane fish (also called lady fish) but in downtown Sydney I use a local fish, barramundi, which serves its purpose just as well!

This fish has a very earthy flavour and can be very easily crumbed. I love to eat it served with a mint and coriander chatni!!

I use a fish garam masala in this recipe and to slice Spanish (red) onions properly, see here!

step 1

ingredients, clockwise: salt, turmeric powder, garam masala for fish, fresh chillies ground, tamarind extract, fresh chillies slit lengthways, fried kari leaves, red (Spanish) onions, sliced

step 2

2-inch squares of barramundi

step 3

fine to medium coarse semolina

step 4

oil for frying

step 5

to finish – lemon juice and chopped parsley

step 6

FOR THE MARINADE:

add salt

step 7

add

add turmeric and garam masala

step 8

add ground chillies

step 8

add tamarind extract

step 9

mix spices into a masala or marinade

step 10

coat each fish piece in the masala

step 11

apply masala on both sides, or just one if you prefer

step 12

dust fish in semolina

step 13

add oil to hot pan and heat until it starts smoking

step 14

carefully place each fish piece in the hot oil

step 15

cook till the semolina is golden

step 16

carefully turn fish over to cook both sides evenly, taking care not to damage semolina crust

step 17

keep frying

step 18

fry until fish crust turns a dark golden colour

step 19

drain each fish piece of oil

step 20

prepare bed of Spanish onion and chopped coriander, fried kari leaves with a dash of lemon juice, to serve

step 21

enjoy!

Let me know how you go with this dish!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Crab with black pepper, kali mirch and milagu !!!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

This week, folks, I wanted to share with you a very special dish.

Yes, the title may have given you a clue and yes again, it’s crab chettinad!

This dish is so special as it uses black peppercorns in three different ways. So, let’s get cracking!

STEP 1

Apply ground turmeric to the mud crabs.

apply 1/2 tsp turmeric to cleaned and cut crab. This recipe uses about 2 kgs mud crabs. [Turmeric is an excellent antioxidant and reduces any bacteria that might be in the crabs.]

Put cleaned crabs in the fridge whilst you prepare the sauce.

STEP 2

To make the sauce:

heat oil until it just starts smoking, then add 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns; let peppercorns crackle [heating peppercorns this way creates an infusion].

STEP 3

add 3 chopped onions and salt to pepper-infused oil [salt prevents the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pan]. Reduce heat to medium and let onions caramelise.

STEP 4

when onions are almost golden, add 2 sprigs fresh kari leaves and let crackle.

STEP 5

add 1 tbsp crushed garlic to onions, fold until garlic is caramelised.

STEP 6

then add 1 tbsp crushed ginger and fold until mixture is golden.

STEP 7

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns, to give the sauce ‘bite’, and fold.

STEP 8

add 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped and cook well.

STEP 9

cook till tomatoes are soft and oil leaves the side of the pan.

STEP 10

It’s now time to remove the crab pieces from the fridge.

add crabs and fold gently.

STEP 11

cover pan and cook until crabs become red [approx. 15-20 minutes].

STEP 12

the crabs are now cooking, yum!!

STEP 13

remove crabs from pot and then finish preparing the sauce.

STEP 14

set crabs aside whilst preparing sauce.

STEP 15

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns and kari leaves to sauce for that extra ‘oomph’!

STEP 16

add juice of 1/4 lemon and season to taste.

STEP 17

add crabs to finished sauce, replace lid and cook for a few minutes.

STEP 18

to plate, remove crabs and arrange on serving dish.

STEP 19

pour sauce on top of crabs.

STEP 20

add a few fresh coriander leaves, to serve.

STEP 21

ready, set, go, attack!

STEP 22

voilà! the easiest and best crab chettinad!!

So, all we need to go along with this dish is some soft steamed Basmati rice. (Click Basmati rice to see how to prepare this delicious accompaniment.)

And there you have it. A most versatile spice used in three different ways in the same recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!

This is soul food for the Goan!!

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,

not 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.

Ingredients:

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

ingredients, from left to right: tamarind extract, green chillies, salt, water, fish fillets & sliced onions (bottom)

 

Masala ingredients:

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

ingredients for the masala, from left to right: crushed garlic, coriander seeds, turmeric, peppercorns, red chillies soaked in brown vinegar & water and fresh coconut (centre)

 

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.)

the ground masala!

 

Method for the caril de piexe:

1. In a pot, add the masala, along with 2 cups of water and the sliced onion.

add the masala to the pot

 

add water

 

add the sliced onions

 

2. Bring the mixture to a boil, over moderate heat.

bring the mixture to a boil

 

3. Add the tamarind concentrate and reduce the heat. Cook for about 2 minutes.

add the tamarind concentrate

 

4. Add the salt and the chillies. Cook for a few more minutes, until the chillies release their aroma.

add the salt

 

add the chillies

 

the sauce is ready for the fish when the onions are soft & the sauce thickens slightly. do not overcook the sauce

 

5. Now add the fish and cook for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.

add the fish

 

cover & cook the fish

 

do not stir the fish, but rather add the sauce on top of the fish

 

to serve, arrange the fillets in a bowl

 

pour some sauce on top

 

serve with hot sanna or brown rice or sticky white rice, best eaten of course, the day after!!

 

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!!

“Taraporee Prawn Patio”: Nergis’ 100-year-old prawn recipe!!

Mrs Nergis in Bangalore at home!

Don’t understand the title? Well then, keep reading . . . all will be explained!

No kidding, friends, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear a 90-year-old chef from Bangalore talk about this yummy prawn dish, and I mean literally ‘talk’!!

But before we do the talk, let’s answer a few questions that I’m sure you’ve got.

Firstly, who is Nergis?

Secondly, what’s so special about Tarapore?

And, thirdly, what in the world is Prawn patio?

Well, let’s answer these questions ‘back to front’, as it were, starting from the last.

Thirdly, Prawn patio aka kolmino patio is fried prawns (in a spice mix, or masala, which uses only five  ingredients besides the ubiquitous salt and oil) and the end result is the most amazing prawn dish that one can have as a side dish, or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course, or as a . . . well, you get the idea . . . or, as all of the above!!

nergis’ taraporee prawn patio

Secondly, Tarapore is a small town about 100 km north of Mumbai and this is where Nergis’ family hails from. (In fact, her family are Parsis who originally came from Iran but left that part of the world when the Islamasition of Iran started , a few hundred years ago.) Nergis’ surname, Tarapore, comes from the name of the town where her family settled!!

Today the town of Tarapore is a lonely one. Now there are only about five Parsis living there and they are all in aged-care centres.

Most other Tarapore residents have left and are now living in different parts of India – as well as the rest of the world!

Which brings us back to our first question about who Nergis is.

So, let me introduce you properly to this wonderful lady.

Nergis was born in Madras in 1922.

She moved to Bangalore when she was 29 years old. She married Mr Dalal and has seven children.

She also has, as you can imagine, lots and lots of grandchildren and even more great grandchildren!

When she was young, girls were not encouraged to study (which still makes her furious to this day) but that did not stop Nergis from becoming a nursing aide in St Martha’s hospital in Bangalore.

She was a very active social worker and she was also heavily involved in teaching English language to poor and destitute kids who would otherwise have never been taught.

Nergis has also helped many relatives and elderly people depart from this world with dignity who would otherwise have received no support whatsoever from society or the local government.

“My Mum is the most amazing person,” says her daughter, Ivy, with great pride. She then goes on to add that she is also an incredible cook!!

Well, you know me, folks. That grabs my attention even more. Someone I can admire and someone whose brains I can pick about food.

Well, there’s no doubt about it, Ivy. The dish I made last night following your mum’s recipe had my neighbours complaining about the kitchen exhaust not working!! No, that’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing as the aromas of the cooking were out of this world!

I think it’s so important to keep alive the oral tradition of cooking. It’s how family recipes were passed down from one generation to the other. I still remember my mother’s aunt would ‘talk’ the recipe of puda chi wadi as she cooked it.

I’d like to have all these wise people tell us about some dish that’s important to them in some way, whether it’s because a dish reminds them of their childhood, or because it reminds them of their village, or of a loved one, or because it reminds them of a particular incident , or whatever the reason.

We should share these testimonies and I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do. Experience, like cooking from the heart, is not something you can ever put a price upon. No Dollar, no Rupee!!!

Nergis at the stove and very much ‘at home’!!

Well then, now that we have seen the video and heard all that Nergis has to say about this ancient prawn dish (kolmino patio), it is time to enter the kitchen.

Ingredients:
1. 1 kg green prawns (with shell)

2. 2 1/2 tablespoons brown cumin seeds

3. 3 cloves of garlic, peeled

4. 1/2 cup brown vinegar or apple cider vinegar

5.1 teaspoon turmeric powder

6. 2 teaspoons chilli powder

7. 1 teaspoon salt

8. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: roasted cumin seeds, brown vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), garlic cloves, vegetable oil, turmeric, salt & chilli powder and prawns (centre)

Method:

1. Remove the shell from the prawns, devein and refrigerate.

shelled & deveined prawns

2. Roast the cumin seeds and let cool.

roasting cumin seeds

3. Grind the cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar to a fine paste.

cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar for the ‘masala’

‘masala’ ground to a fine paste

4. In a pan, add the oil and immediately add the spice mix (masala).

add ‘masala’ to cold oil

5. Add the turmeric, chilli powder and salt to the masala.

add the turmeric, chilli powder & salt to the ‘masala’

6. Cook over moderate heat until the spice mix is cooked and the oil rises to the surface. (See no. 1 below.)

mix well and cook over moderate heat

the ‘masala’ starts to change colour

the ‘masala’ is ready when it starts to bubble and the oil leaves the sides of the pan

7. Add the prawns and fold in the spice mix (masala) till it coats the prawns.

add the prawns

prawns coated with ‘masala’

8. Increase the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 1 minute and then reduce heat to moderate-high.

prawns ready to be covered

cover with lid

8. When cooked, serve the prawns as an accompaniment with dhaan dal (rice and dal), or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course with Indian flat breads, or . . . well, the choices are endless!

serve on a bed of salad leaves

ready for the ‘masala’

drizzle some ‘masala’ on the prawns

nergis’ taraporee prawn patio

And finally, a few facts to remember when cooking this dish:

1. Start cooking the spice mix (masala) in cold oil. Heat the oil after the spice mix has been added. Adding the spice mix to the cold oil helps cook it till the flavours from the ground spices comes out without burning it!

2. If brown vinegar is not available, don’t panic!, you can use apple cider vinegar instead.

3. This dish can also be made with fish, especially a dried fish called boomla (that’s known as ‘Bombay Duck’ to lots of you which is a fish inspite of its misleading name!) and it can then be used as a pickle!

4. You can use any leftover spice mix to cook with slices of eggplant, or grated carrots, and “don’t over do them” as Nergis suggests.

5. Nergis mentions “every day fire” which means whatever fuel you use whether it’s gas, electricity, or even cooking coal and not too high heat !!

6. Lastly, Nergis says, “Enjoy, eat well and be healthy.”

Well, if you didn’t hear Nergis say that, that’s fine, nor did I, but she means it from the bottom of her heart!!!

SHUKRIYA NERGIS!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

It’s only been 15 years in the making. . .

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My restaurant, nilgiri’s, turns 15 on the 9th of July and it seems like only yesterday that we started this dream project.

Fifteen years is a long time in my industry, just like it is in cricket, another of my dream games!

Longevity in the kitchen, or on the pitch, is not a hallmark but a necessity. The longer you play, the better your credentials; just go and ask Don Bradman.

Well, running a restaurant is like playing cricket and just as in cricket there are lessons to learn.

These fifteen years have been a h-ll of a learning curve for me personally.

I had a dream, when I was younger, that I would run my own restaurant and here I am, to this day, living this dream!

But as in cricket there are some good ‘ups’ and some not so good ‘ups’. And yes, I mean “not so good ‘ups’” because there are no ‘downs’.

Success is not about what you have but how you deal with it.

They say cricket is the great leveller, a hundred today could be a first ‘ball duck’ tomorrow.

Well, running a restaurant is also a great leveller, a full house today could be a ‘duck’ tomorrow.

However, be that as it may, you must believe in yourself and back yourself and keep going, just like a good cricketer does; he keeps on going and going!! We have tried doing this for nearly two decades. You get caught out, you get stumped, you’re LBW but you keep batting for your team. Well, that’s what my team and I have been doing!

Nilgiri’s has been a memorable journey for us all, and to tell you the truth there have been a few regrets [these might appear in a blog one of these days], there aren’t many regrets, but overall, I would not change a thing!!

Every day brings something new. There is a cooking class to do, or a chef’s table to cook for. Then there is a cooking demonstration at a primary school, or at the restaurant. A new menu starts every month, or there is a birthday party to cater for, or there’s even a wedding reception to cook for. So, you get the picture, there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something happening!!

And last week was one such week that I will never forget.

happy faces at the function

We had the most amazing function at the restaurant.

No, it was not a birthday party, or a wedding reception, or a cocktail party to celebrate someone’s 21st. These are all amazing in their own way but this was different.

This was a charity dinner.

And it was a charity dinner for the game of cricket!!

Imagine that?! I get to give a charity dinner for cricket!

Basically, my son is going to Sri Lanka to play cricket against the local Sri Lankan clubs and schools and I am told it is going to be a ‘cracker’ of a tour.

Two teams of 12 players each, and some parents and coaches, will be on this island for about 12 days to give some up-and-coming cricketers from Sydney a chance to play on a different kind of turf [literally and metaphorically!].

The tour is self funded which means there are no sponsors and so all the players and parents must foot their own bill.

Some are comfortable with this idea, some parents are happy to fund it with a little stretch to their budget, and some just can’t stretch that far, no matter how keen. Well, there are three very talented kids who just can’t make it unless someone can dig deep into their pockets and sponsor them to go.

So, we had a highly difficult, but not an impossible, task to raise money to pay for these kids to go on this cricket tour.

We discussed it and thought that a charity dinner could possibly help in getting the kids over the line.

The target was to raise $14,000 to take care of the travel, accommodation and food for these kids.

So, I said that I’d host and cook for the dinner. We advertised at our restaurant, the cricket club did the same and we got 98 guests who paid $75 per person which immediately gave us $7350.

Wine supplied by Samuel Smith & Son

But we needed at least $6500 to make up the deficit.

And this is what I love about Australians, they are always supporting the needy and the underprivileged and Sydney did not let us down!!

Mitchel Starc speaking from England

We had Mitchel Starc speak to the gathering from England via satellite and at our end Josh Hazlewood (he’s an Australian fast bowler for those of you who might not know), Alysha Healy (she’s the wicket-keeper with the Australian Women’s cricket team) and Chandika (he’s a former Sri Lankan opening batsman),Lachlan O’Connor (former NSW U-17 captain) came in to do their bit, at no cost.

Jeff Bolt brought in the audio visual system and was also the DJ for the night, at no cost, and the wines were supplied by Samuel Smith & Son, the beer by Mumbai Pilsner, the soft drinks by Coca Cola and nilgiri’s provided the food and service, at no cost.

beer by Mumbai Pilsner

The menu included methi murgh, laal maas, kalonji baingan, and for starters we had our speciality cocktail dosai, followed by kozhi milagu varuval with roomali roti.

Chefs Reddy and Durga in action, cooking naans and kebabs !!

But there is more, in spite of the generous gifts from all the above. If you can believe it we are still short of funds, so we decide there must, of course, be a few items to auction on the night to raise the extra few thousands. I mean, who has ever gone to a charity dinner and not had an auction?

Jeff Bojt and Ash ‘live’ auction

So, more generous donations appeared in the form of: Mr Greg Chappell donating his training cap, Kashmiri shawls were given from Meenakshi, the NSW Blues donated a fully autographed cricket bat, Mark Waugh donated his training shirt, and one Mr Sachin Tendulkar donated an autographed bat!!

Well, when I saw the last item I just knew who was going to bid for this one!

(No, not me, my son of course! The poor chap put in all his savings to get it, and he did!!)

My son, Aniruddh, helping out on the night, ‘no charge’

But there is more, all the photography was given free and the photos on the night taken by my friend JS (John Slaytor) and to celebrate 15 years of ‘survival’ in a tough business nilgiri’s did not take a cent.

And what a night it was.

Alysha Healy having a good time!!

We raised $9000 from the auctions and then came the icing on the cake . . . my friend Dr Alok Sharma promised $2000 from the Rotary Club of Wagga Wagga!!

Unbelievable! We asked for $14000 and we ended up raising $19000. You Beauty!!

What more could we have asked for to celebrate our anniversary month, good food, good wine and some good cricket talk?!!

Akhil on the floor

And, as I look back on that night and the extraordinary generosity and goodwill of all involved, the words of a Scottish minister come to mind, “You will find, as you look back on your life, that the moments that stand out are the moments when you have done things for others.”

Anna Datha Sukhi Bhava!!

Three different classes over three days, but one common question. . .

Posted on

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

Last week was a bit hectic and challenging as I had to change my ‘gears’ quickly to go from a fast paced class for about 60 students at the Sydney Seafood School [SSS] on Thursday, to an easy paced corporate team building cooking class for about 12 participants at the restaurant the next day.

nilgiri’s corporate team building cooking class

Those two classes were followed by our highly rated regular class on Saturday for 12 students, as per usual.

The difference between the three classes is great fun for me because all of them are about cooking Indian food. Furthermore, all of them let me showcase my cuisine through my words and my actions!! I just love it like that!!!

But the one question that all the students had in common was this: “If you were to use only one spice and no more in your cooking, which one would it be, and why?”

My answer is very simple and has not changed over all the years I’ve been cooking.

“Give me the king of spices and I can cook you a dish, or a meal, without you ever knowing what the added spice was.”

Well almost. You might just guess.

However, it is not about my cooking that makes it hard to guess what the spice is as much as it is about the versatility of this spice.

Can you guess what it is?

And no, it’s not the ones you’re thinking of, I guarantee.

What did you guess?

Coriander seeds?

Cumin seeds?

(And no, please, not the dreaded ‘curry powder’ that someone suggested. I don’t think they’ll make that suggestion again!)

You still don’t know?

Okay.

It’s black peppercorns or kali mirch!!

There is plenty of information that one can get on what pepper is, and how to get it, and what the botanical name is and blah, blah, blah. . . but I am not going there. You’re welcome to go there in your own time, please be my guest!

But what I am going to do is tell you about the food we cooked in the three classes.

Each class was so different but in each one the common spice used was pepper.

So, adding pepper at different stages during cooking gets completely different results, and all of them are b….y good!! [Now, before I go any further, I must confess to the excessive use of the word ‘bl…y’ in my blogs. I have been asked by my best well-wisher, Aai, my mother, to tone it down. So, as of now the word is to be read ‘b….y’ for BEAUTY!!]  Happy Aai?

So, let’s start at the fish markets where I was invited to give a class.

Basically, the cooking class at the SSS is a 2 hour hands-on class which means the students get to cook two dishes from start to finish.

The first is an entrée and the second a main course served with steamed Basmati rice.

I love doing classes at the SSS because it’s such fun but also because it’s like performing on stage.

You get 1 hour to perform and show how the dishes are cooked and then the students move to a state-of-the-art kitchen to recreate the dishes.

So, I showed them how to make crab chettinad using blue swimmer crabs and karwari prawns, using fresh prawns.

The recipe for crab chettinad uses cinnamon, cardamom and cloves as part of a ‘whole garam masala’ followed by the ubiquitous ginger and garlic and peppercorns.

The crushed peppercorns are added right at the end of cooking the dish so that the pepper flavour is fresh and pungent.

At the team building class the next day we made, besides a few other dishes, yerra varuval (pan-fried marinated prawns). Here, the prawns were marinated right at the beginning with crushed peppercorns and other spices. This method creates a superb pepper crust on the prawns when they are tossed in a wok.

We also made a rasam using lentils and tomatoes which was then tempered with black mustard seeds, cumin and whole peppercorns.

The following day, in our scheduled class on Kerala cuisine, we made a moplah style biryani using chicken, rather than goat, and added ground garam masala, which includes pepper, after the chicken was seared and before the partially cooked rice was added to the chicken.

So, to summarise the versatility of this wonderful spice here is my altered recipe for crab chettinad that uses only black peppercorns as a spice throughout the recipe. Yes, that’s right!

There are no whole spices and no ground chillies. Just pepper all the way!!

At the first stage, whole peppercorns are added to the hot oil to create an infusion. Adding the peppercorns to the hot oil ensures that the peppercorn flavour will permeate through the onions and the rest of the ingredients, including the crab.

At the second stage, crushed peppercorns are added to give the dish some ‘bite’.

And finally, as I mentioned before, at the third stage, the freshly ground pepper is added right at the end to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish; just like we add ground pepper to our soups!!

STEP 1

Here is my recipe for Crab Chettinad using only pepper!:

apply 1/2 tsp turmeric to cleaned and cut crab. This recipe uses about 2 kgs mud crabs. [Turmeric is an excellent antioxidant and reduces any bacteria that might be in the crabs.]

Put cleaned crabs in the fridge whilst preparing the sauce.

STEP 2

To make the sauce:

heat oil until it just starts smoking, then add 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns; let peppercorns crackle [heating peppercorns this way creates an infusion].

STEP 3

add 3 chopped onions and salt to pepper-infused oil [salt prevents the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pan]. Reduce heat to medium and let onions caramelise.

STEP 4

when onions are almost golden, add 2 sprigs fresh kari leaves and let crackle.

STEP 5

add 1 tbsp crushed garlic to onions, fold until garlic is caramelised.

STEP 6

then add 1 tbsp crushed ginger and fold until mixture is golden.

STEP 7

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns, to give the sauce ‘bite’, and fold.

STEP 8

add 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped and cook well.

STEP 9

cook till tomatoes are soft and oil leaves the side of the pan.

STEP 10

It’s now time to remove the crab pieces from the fridge.

add crabs and fold gently.

STEP 11

cover pan and cook until crabs become red [approx. 15-20 minutes].

STEP 12

the crabs are now cooking, yum!!

STEP 13

remove crabs from pot and then finish preparing the sauce.

STEP 14

set crabs aside whilst preparing sauce.

STEP 15

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns and kari leaves to sauce for that extra ‘oomph’!

STEP 16

add juice of 1/4 lemon and season to taste.

STEP 17

add crabs to finished sauce, replace lid and cook for a few minutes.

STEP 18

to plate, remove crabs and arrange on serving dish.

STEP 19

pour sauce on top of crabs.

STEP 20

add a few fresh coriander leaves, to serve.

STEP 21

ready, set, go, attack!

STEP 22

voilà! the easiest and best crab chettinad!!

So, all we need to go along with this dish is some soft steamed Basmati rice. (Click Basmati rice to see how to prepare this delicious accompaniment.)

And there you have it. A most versatile spice used in three different ways in the same recipe.

If you’d like to try another classic version of this dish, please click crab chettinand recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!

Semolina crusted fish, one of my favorite starters for an Indian meal . . . or any meal for that matter!!

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about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

During one of my travels through the west coast/ghats of India in 1987/88, I was on the lookout for food that would not only be unique in taste and texture but also have a story to tell.

This tour was so that I could find different and highly specialised cuisines that we could then adapt for the luxury seafood restaurant we were running in Bangalore and so the food had to be excellent and different. Was I keen to go on this Grand Gastronomique Fish Tour? You bet!

Well, I was led to places like Dharwad, famous for its milk based desserts called peda, but that is not what I was looking for, whilst delicious, it was too simple a dish to sell in a ‘world class’ restaurant.

In Mangalore I found among other delicacies, neer dosa, a kind of rice flour dosai served with kori gassi  which was perfect to feature as a main course, but I was looking for a starter with seafood.

My friend, KK Shiva, had recommended a place called Coondapoor famous for its usha restaurant. He had also warned me to get there early as the restaurant is famous for a fried fish called kane rava fry which is sold out even before it is sold, if you know what I mean!

The owner of the restaurant, Mr Shetty, does not take any bookings so it is on a first come first served basis. Cool!!

Well, I was not going to miss out on this experience and I was extremely lucky to get the last of the ‘KRF’.

The kane fish (also called lady fish), is extremely delicate and has to kept alive till it is ready to be cooked. There is no scientific reason for this except that the usha restaurant has no refrigerators!!

Once killed, the fish must be massaged with oil which keeps the fish soft and prevents it from curling!!

The gutted fish then gets smeared with a masala called coondapoor masala, coated with semolina and fried.

What then appears is the best ‘crumbed’ fish I had ever eaten!!

This dish had to feature in our new restaurant and was sure to be a winner!!

The restaurant, by the way, is called ‘Karavalli’ and even though I left the restaurant over 25 years ago, this fish dish has never left the menu!!

Now, nearly 25 years down the line I serve a version similar to the KRF in Nilgiri’s in Sydney, on special occasions, but I use a local fish called barramundi.

This fish has a very earthy flavour and can be very easily crumbed. I love to eat it, served with a mint and coriander chatni!! For a one page version of this recipe click semolina crust fish recipe. For a step by step recipe, keep reading!

step 1

ingredients, clockwise: salt, turmeric powder, garam masala for fish, fresh chillies ground, tamarind extract, fresh chillies slit lengthways, fried kari leaves, red onions, sliced

step 2

2-inch squares of barramundi

step 3

fine to medium coarse semolina

step 4

oil for frying

step 5

to finish - lemon juice and chopped parsley

step 6

FOR THE MARINADE:

add salt

step 7

add

add turmeric and garam masala

step 8

add ground chillies

step 8

add tamarind extract

step 9

mix spices into a masala or marinade

step 10

coat each fish piece in the masala

step 11

apply masala on both sides, or just one if you prefer

step 12

dust fish in semolina

step 13

add oil to hot pan and heat until it starts smoking

step 14

carefully place each fish piece in the hot oil

step 15

cook till the semolina is golden

step 16

carefully turn fish over to cook both sides evenly, taking care not to damage semolina crust

step 17

keep frying

step 18

fry until fish crust turns a dark golden colour

step 19

drain each fish piece of oil

step 20

prepare bed of Spanish onion and chopped coriander, fried kari leaves with a dash of lemon juice, to serve

step 21

enjoy!

Serve this as a part of your Easter Special and watch the resurrection of . . . happen in front of your eyes!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

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