Saturday, 18 June 2016

Fish Cutlets


"
The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.
"
Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

So also were the small, kind gestures like boxes of fish cutlets that someone would send our way when we were dependent solely on the cooking of house helps.
I don't remember my mother making fish cutlets; hers were almost always beef or mixed vegetables or a combination of unripe plantain and cashews (an incredibly good one). So the earliest I remember of having had fish cutlets were from those sent to us by A Aunty (who also used to send us cut mango pickles in summer.) and then later a few times by S Aunty.
These are also one of the very few things that I used to cook while I was in college. Although a bit time consuming, they are indeed very good and goes well with rice. The recipe is quite forgiving and you can taste and adjust as you go – but you do have to remember a few things, especially if you will be starting with fresh mackerels as suggested. First and foremost, you have to make these when Mackerels are in season and taste good. If they are not good enough to fry or make into a curry, you definitely don’t want to make cutlets out of them. I find the taste and texture of out of season ones to be slightly off putting. Secondly, don’t mash the potatoes into a paste – doing so will make them gummy and it will ultimately change the texture of the cutlets. And lastly, make sure that you don’t leave any bones in the mix.

Fish Cutlets

Working with mackerels is not that easy. You have to remove all the bones carefully and the fish has a comparatively strong smell too. If you would rather choose an easier way, use a fish with fewer bones. Unfortunately, I have never weighed the meat after removing bones, but my best guess is that once the bones are removed from a 500 gm pack of Mackerels, the meat would approximately come to around 300 gms. A little more or less won't hurt as the patties are more or less forgiving.

Ingredients:

The Fish:
  1. Fresh Mackerels, cleaned – 500 gm.
  2. Crushed Ginger – 1 inch piece
  3. Garlic – 1/2 of a pod (Just slice across one pod and dump it in along with the fish. You will be removing it later.)
  4. Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp.
  5. Curry Leaves – 1 Sprig
  6. Water – Just enough to cook the fish – Approximately 1/4 cup will do.
  7. Salt
For making the Cutlets:
  1. Onions, finely chopped – 1 cup
  2. Potatoes, cooked and crumbled – About 1 and a 1/2 to 2 cups (Do not mash them into a smooth paste. Just finely crumble at this stage. See Notes.)
  3. Green Chillies, finely chopped – 2 (Remove seeds if needed.)
  4. Ginger, grated – 1 loosely packed tbsp.
  5. Garlic, minced - 1 loosely packed tbsp.
  6. Pepper Powder, freshly cracked – 1/2 tsp.
  7. Homemade Meat Masala Powder/Garam Masala Powder – 1/2 tsp., plus more to taste.
  8. Curry Leaves, finely chopped – About 1 tbsp.
  9. Salt
  10. Coconut Oil
For Draping the Cutlets:
  1. Egg, beaten – 1 large (You might need more.)
  2. Bread Crumbs – About 1 cup (You might not use all; You might need more; depending on how you are coating the patties.)
For Frying the Cutlets:
  1. Oil – Just enough to pan fry. (You don’t need to deep fry them.)
Directions:

The Fish:

Cook the fish along with all the ingredients listed under ‘The Fish’. As there is just enough water to steam cook the fish, do check once in a while and make sure that the fish is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add more water if needed.

Once the fish is cooked, switch off the heat and leave it to cool. Once cold, discard everything except the fish and any leftover stock. Carefully remove all the bones from the fishes and gently crumble the pieces. Keep aside.

Making the Cutlets:

Heat up a pan and add some oil. Sauté onions along with green chillies, curry leaves, ginger and garlic. If you are using the stock, you can add it to the pan once the onions turn translucent and reduce till the mix is barely wet. This will amplify the flavour of the cutlets. However, it is fine if you don’t want to do this.

Now add the flaked fish as well the mashed potatoes. You might need to adjust the quantity of potatoes so that the patties will come together. Mix well and keep the mixture on the heat for a couple of minutes. (Make sure that you are not turning the mix into a mash. Mix well enough, but gently. It is better to have flecks of fish and a few small of lumps of potato throughout rather than turning the whole thing into a homogeneous mash. That said, the potatoes must be able to hold the patties together.) Taste and adjust salt and spices if needed.

Allow the mixture to cool.

Shaping and Draping the Cutlets:

After the mixture has cooled down, you can use some sort of a measure to divide it into equal parts (I use a 1/8 cup to measure.) Roll them into balls with the palm of your hand and then flatten them into disks. If the mixture feels too difficult to handle (if you had properly dried out the mix on the pan, it shouldn’t really be tough to handle), keep it covered in the refrigerator for an hour or so and then shape. Coat each cutlet first with the egg and then immediately with the breadcrumbs. Fry as many as you want (No need to deep fry.) and keep the rest frozen in a container. (As you stack the cutlets in the container, make sure that you leave a parchment paper between rows so that they won’t stick to each other. To use the frozen ones, let them thaw in the fridge or on the counter top and then fry.
Serve with rice or with a dip.

Notes:
  1. You can add roasted and chopped Cashew Nuts into the mix for cutlets.
  2. You can also add a few leaves of coriander (finely chopped) into the mix when you add the fish and potatoes if you prefer.
  3. Finally, I have something up here from the old blog! This is a post back from 2012.

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