When John asked me to do a blog on bbq fish à la Inde, for people who ‘love to smoke their fish and have it too’, I said, “Sure! I can help them do both!!”
You might not be able to have your cake and eat it too, but you can with fish!
But before I begin, if you want to follow the recipe on a single page, then please click smoked red snapper recipe.
“Well John, we can do a tandoori fish with different marinades. It’s no big deal.”
But I could see that this Aussie guy wasn’t quite sure if my ‘no big deal’ really was so small.
“No one has a tandoor in their backyard, Ajoy, we need to do something that will make an ‘Aussie’ cook it at home.”
“How about cooking it on the barbie?” I suggested.
“Sure,” John replied.
But I knew what he was going to say next so I preempted him, “But,” I said, leaning forward, “Not every house has a BBQ in their backyard, lots of people live in units and can’t smoke out their neighbours and. . .” I continued, looking out of the window as the rain lashed down as it has almost all summer, “this means there is no way they can cook this dish. So, how about cooking it in the oven, or still better if we can ‘smoke’ it on the electric or gas burner?”
I could see John liked this idea but he still needed convincing that it could actually happen!
So, if we just marinated the fish in a tandoori marinade, cooked it in the pan, or a pot, or a skillet, or just steamed it we would have tandoori fish, just like they do ‘back home’ . . . but that would be cheating!
So, memory recall!!
Place: Taj Savoy, Ooty.
I am on assignment to cook food for the top officials of Citicorp and in one of their ‘themed’ dinners we were asked to create a ‘smoked fish’ for the ‘kebab’ dinner.
Now, as most of you will know and some of you might not, a kebab is literally cooking a large piece of meat without a sauce. Make this meat smaller and you get, guess what?, tikka! The ‘meat’, can of course be fish as well.
Mr Rao, who was the boss of Citicorp back then, was most adamant that no two kebabs on the menu should have the same cooking technique. It was therefore imperative that the kebabs come from all over India. He even included some from neighbouring Pakistan.
So, to give him what he wanted we served paththar ka gosht (boneless lamb barbequed on a stone slab) and khorme ka kebab from Hyderabad, kakori kebab (a very tender lamb kebab) from Bhopal, murgh tikka (chicken tikka) from the Punjab, chapli kebab (a beef kebab) from Peshawar, and so on . . . including a fish kebab that was not cooked in the tandoor.
Mr Rao wanted the chefs to create a fish kebab similar to a smoked fish using hickory.
Now, using hickory would have been easy, except that Ooty had no Hickory at that time and we were running out of time and had to do this dish!
So, never ones to be beaten by a lack of hickory (or whatever the missing ingredient happens to be), the chefs decided to trial smoking whole pomfret (a type of fish) using the bark of gum trees.
It worked beautifully except that the fish had a strong flavor of eucalyptus!
Thank whichever almighty G-d you follow that this was only a trial so I could keep my job or else. . . so we kept experimenting.
Next we tried smoking the fish using corn husks and tea leaves and it worked wonders!!
We called the dish dhuyein ki machchi!!
So, maybe it is time to recollect these memories into something concrete and try and create this dish for John and my Aussie friends.
Then there’s the tomato chutney that you serve alongside and prepare whilst your fish is smoking in the oven.
After you have scored all the fish, discard the ice.
step 13: Preparing the marinade.
Making the chutney that goes alongside the fish (prepare whilst the fish is being smoked).
But before I let you loose into your own kitchen to do this there are a few things I’d like you to remember when smoking fish:
1. Never add lemon juice to the marinade, this moistens the fish and will ‘break’ it up when smoked. Add lemon juice to the fish after it has been smoked and removed from the oven and whilst it is still hot.
2. Avoid small fillets of fish as they are too delicate, use whole fish, especially when the fish is ‘plate sized’.
3. If using fillets of a bigger fish, crust the skin side (making sure you do not skin the fish, dry the skin side and apply the marinade, the skin will get crisp after smoking) and cover the flesh side with aluminium foil to prevent the fillet from drying out.
4. You may use any wood chips as long as they are safe! Please check this before you use them. Also, try rose leaves mixed with tea leaves, it creates the most fabulous aroma and taste!!
5. Remember, never fry the fish before smoking it like they do on MasterChef , nothing is worse than this as the smokey flavour does not permeate through the fish.
6. This is the best way to impress your wife/girlfriend for a slightly belated Valentine’s day, in case you forgot to take her out for dinner and if you are not in the dog house already!!
Any questions about the fish? Any trouble with obtaining good wood chips? Don’t know what hickory is but only know it from that nursery rhyme? Want to know something that’s totally off topic? Well, please write to me and let me know your thoughts/comments.
And please, no jokes like I’ve heard from my son’s friends about ‘smoking fish’ as they stand there imitating a guy smoking a cigarette but pretend it‘s a fish!
So, happy cooking till the next one!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!