Black-Tea Smoked Salmon in a pot (without a smoker)

Smoking food is an ancient technique. It is said that smoking dates back to the time of primitive cavemen. Seems caves or chimney-less huts had smoke trapped inside. When hunters would hangs meat in such dwellings, it would dry out with a distinct flavour and would remain preserved for long. That is how smoking began. Later the curing techniques were added where food was first put in salt or salty liquid (brine) and the smoked. As cooking processes evolved along with human beings, different varieties of smoking began to happen and special gadgets were also invented. But in my humble kitchen neither do I hav such gadgets nor the inclination to buy one. So I googled for techniques to smoke fish on stove-top. Here is the recipe based on my research about this amazing smoked fish which sure will tantalize you with it’s subtle flavours of tea and lemon.

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Pan-seared Salmon, Fennel & Baby Potatoes with Orange Cheese Sauce

Dear Didi and Daibi,

Firstly I wish Happy New Year to you all and our readers. May 2014 be a fruitful and joyful year for each one of you. How are things that side? All well this side…a lot has happened since I last wrote to you two and yes, a lot of time has elapsed too since our last post….the reason simply being, all three of us got tied up…so tied up that we abandoned our blog…”Sorry dear blog that we left you again..will not give any lame excuse, but simply say sorry”.

2013 was a year of few, but very meaningful achievements for me…I have spent last year baking some really awesome cakes, launching my side-business of bespoke cakes called Cake-A-Two; visited a UNESCO World Heritage site in Tasmania that included the Cradle Mountain and Gordon River Wilderness; touched the edge of Southern Ocean in a 12.5 mtr speed boat (seeing water waves higher than the boat!); learning swimming & then snorkeling in the middle of the big blue Pacific Ocean; visiting India and spending some quality time with Ma and Baba; and then bringing my in-laws here with me to Melbourne. The snorkeling however was the best experience of 2013 for me!! You guys know about my water-phobia but the swimming classes and the Great Barrier Reef made me forget everything!! What a symphony of colors awaited us there….its truly unimaginable…we saw clown fish in the anemones, held some hard live corals in hand, did eeeeeeeee after touching sea cucumbers and swam with a green sea turtle! Aaah…I wish to go again 🙂 Niloy Dutta, are you listening? 😀

In terms of Food, I tried some new things last year…like Kangaroo, Crocodile, Emu, Quail and Blood Pudding ….but the Croc meat was the most surprising…you would think it would be chewy and rubbery considering its HARD SKIN…but no, quite the opposite…its a very tender white meat!!! Today I am writing this year’s first post with a fish recipe in keeping with the Bengali tradition to start good things with pheesh! I am hoping that this year brings happier moments for the blog and for each one of us. I used Florence fennel which has a mild fennel flavour as an accompaniment to the fish. You might not get it in Indian markets, so you can just flavour some green beans or broccoli with fennel seeds too or just do away with the fennel part of it.

Pan-fried Salmon, caramelised Fennel & Onion, butter-tossed Baby Potatoes with a Orange Cheese Sauce

Pan-seared Salmon, caramelised Fennel & Onion, butter-tossed Baby Potatoes with a Orange Cheese Sauce

Here is how I made it:

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Quick & Easy Prawn Risotto with a Mushroom-Prawn Sauce

Part 2 of Easy Peasy Meals –

Matt Preston, one of the Masterchef Australia judges, calls risotto to be a ‘Death Dish’.  That’s because there are just too many elements to a classical risotto, like making a fresh broth from vegetables like garlic, onions, carrots, leeks & celery; bay leaves and cloves; parsley; and some meat. The rice (normally Arborio) must be fried in a chopped onion and butter mix till it is coated well and then cooked in some wine on medium heat. Then the broth is added slowly, one ladlefull at a time, till the rice is creamy and bitey soft (as Italians say ‘al dente’..as in the rice should be soft but should be a little hard and munchy for the teeth).  The total preparation time can be anything between 2-3 hours as the broth itself takes long to cook.  Now meat or fish or veggies can be added to this cooking process to add flavour..the result is a lovely creamy risotto. But wait; this is a shortcut risotto..so none of this is required! 😀

Easy Peasy Prawn Risotto with Mushroom and Prawn Sauce

Quick and Easy Prawn Risotto with Mushroom and Prawn Sauce

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Basa Fish Rolls stuffed with Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce

Dear Cousins!

How are you guys doing? I want to share a news with you! Hehehhee…no no..don’t guess, coz I am sure you guys don’t know (and trust me it not anything usual!).  Well actually I bought a Guitar!! yipppppeeeee!! Since I was in school where we had those music classes, I wanted to learn Guitar. But I was too shy to go up to the teacher and ask her to help learn this instrument…Sandra Banerjee, our western music teacher at Mater Dei Convent was truly one of the best music teacher I have ever had.  She was good with everything..the piano, the guitar, the drums!! Oh and her voice..I loved her powerful voice which would would remind many of Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act…..be it a hymn or a popular song, she was the best!! Every event, small or big ended with her singing the popular rock number of 90s What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes.

I still remember her running heartily from one end of the hall to the stage, coolly picking up the Guitar, and striking those familiar chords which would make the whole crowd roar and clap in appreciation….with her guitar and her voice she would wake up the likes of me who would be sleeping during an inter-school debating competition!! 😀 All I did at that time was clap loudly and imagine myself singing like her one day….that never happened though coz you know how life is….I got caught up in the race to achieve goals….studies, exams, career…but now I have some time and thought, why not use it to fulfill my childhood dreams. Hence the GUITAR came into my life. Possibly I would never play like our teacher, but nevertheless her love for music would always inspire me!! My friends who have learned guitar themselves tell me that I need a lot of patience….so I just hope I don’t loose patience!! Wish me luck and then one fine day while you guys eat a lovely meal (like the one below), I will play the guitar for you!

Till then, I will continue with my recipes and today’s is one of them which would go very well with the music of the guitar in the background (I think). Its a recipe I saw in an old English style  book from 1980. With a few additional ingredients, I present to you a plateful of soft fish fillets stuffed with mushroom in a white wine sauce!

Fish Rolls stuffed with Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce

Basa Fish Rolls stuffed with Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce

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Grilled Snapper with Chermoula and Pan-Fried/Grilled Trout with Butter, Dill/Parsley & Lemon

Dear Cousins!

Lately I have taken on experimenting with various varieties of fresh fish available in the Victoria Market here in Melbourne.  Have I told you about this market earlier?? I think no, and even if I have, please bear with me again coz I just love that market!!! Its like a gold mine for foodies like us…you get everything….from Indian veggies like Karela or bitter gourd, to Southeast Asian fruits like Durian, to the Latin American Tamarilloyou really get everything there…and that’s not just the fresh fruits and veggies am talking about!! There is also an exhaustive Deli section with a lovely spread of cured meats, cheese and chocolatiers; a Meat wing where one can buy crocodile meat to quail & rabbit meat; and last but not the least a Seafood section where numerous varieties of fresh fish, molluscs and crustaceans are available!!

Trust me, this is THE place to be for foodies who love to cook and try out new things. Since Niloy and I are totally adventurous when it comes to food, we have tried out many new things…since I had experimented with many things during my stay in Germany and South Africa, it was easier for me to buy them here and cook them as well.  I can happily say that now our normal day to day food does not have the Indian daal chawal roti sabji fare…instead it consists of things like oyster mushrooms, silverbeet,  celery, leeks, shitake mushrooms, sausages, hams, cured meats and cheese…recently we have started our fishy encounters 😀 (how can we ignore our Bengali pheeshy blood?). These days fish varieties like snapper, silver whiting, trouts, salmon and trevally  find their way to our dinner table (and we are planning to try out John Dory and Flounder next).  Hence today’s post is about the fish recipes that I have cooked in the last weeks. We don’t get these varieties in India, but pomfret, prawns or any other boneless fish steaks can be used to replace these. I derived the concept of baking the fish in a parchment paper bag from the classical French dish, ‘Fish en Papillote’.  It is made by placing a fish steak or whole fish with herbs, lemon, butter and other seasoning in parchment paper which is then sealed from all edges and baked. One can even use foil instead of paper.

Grilled Snapper with Chermoula

Baby Red Snapper with Chermoula marinade

Baby Red Snapper with Chermoula marinade

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Masala pomfret

Dear Dear Cousins,

Hello! Before the pair of you jump down my throat for abandoning “the food cause” …let me reassure you both that it couldn’t be further away from the truth. I just needed some time off to concentrate on other things… and the fact that we met up in the interim just added to the lull.

I can see that Dakhina you have been pretty active. I loved your post honoring your mum, whatever she might say, in my eyes as in yours, she is a wonderful cook…her simple mutton curry is a legend… and her tomato posto (tomato and poppy seeds)..I could write reams about that alone. Mothers are unsung heroes, how many hours they slog over the stove making something delicious to eat without expecting any applause in return. Our childhood was all about good honest home cooked dishes, sweets, savories…they did it all and so effortlessly.I can absolutely understand your idea of a dish thrown together with easily available ingredients which in the end belies its simplicity.

The dish that I am going to share with you today, falls in this category. I first had it on the open beaches of Puri at a sea side shack serving up the days fresh catch. It was simply yum and has become quite a favourite with us.

Masala pomfret

Masala pomfret

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Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok (Hilsa fish’s head in a Tamarind gravy) and Bengali Women

Dear Cousins,

Hope you both are doing well. I have been a bit out of action lately as I was attending a conference here in Melbourne on India and Australia Relations.  I didn’t get much time to cook at home during these days, but I can happily tell you this that I was part of a 2 member team catering for almost 40 people’s dinner!!! My contribution in this amazing food spread were making 2 dips for crackers that were served with drinks (mushroom pate and a yoghurt+garlic+mint+ ricotta dip).  I plated them so well that Mary, the head chef of the day was totally in awe with the results!! The second thing I made was Red Peppers stuffed with Spiced Chickpea and Lentils.  I must proudly inform you both that many guests (Indians and Australians) came and personally congratulated me for all the three!!! One gentleman said, “The aroma of the peppers was so intoxicating that I couldn’t wait till the vegetarians had had their share!! I quietly took one :).” The appreciation was heartening!

Considering that the conference left me intellectually bombarded with so many esteemed researchers and activists giving speeches, I have been thinking about a few things myself as well…and while cooking too such thoughts don’t leave me…like the other day I was making Ilish macher matha (Hilsa fish’s head) and a question popped up in my mind. As you guys know, the head of the fish is considered very auspicious and very healthy (they say if you eat fish’s head you would have a sharp brain).  Both men and women therefore must consume it.  So I asked Niloy how would he like me to cook it. He said, “I don’t eat this piece.”  Now this was expected. In many Bengali households it is eaten normally by the women because eating it can be time consuming as well as difficult. There are large bones in it which make it cumbersome. I have heard from many Bengali women that because of this reason they end up eating it as no one else wants to eat that piece.  I guess this trend is also a result of the old Indian tradition when women ate after everyone had eaten (mind you, in many parts of India, it still happens and that includes the urban cities as well).  So lets say there is a big pot of fish and first the men eat, then the children and then the women.  Since fish head and tail are two cumbersome pieces, they would sit in the pot till the end and invariably the women would eat it.  To avoid this, I think Bengali mothers and grandmothers invented the recipes like Mudi Ghonto (Rice and fish head mix), Macher matha diye muung daal (Fish head with Moong daal), and many others that mix fish head with some vegetable or rice and make it tasty so that everyone eats it.  Is it because Bengali women are more progressive? Any comments?

I too learned a recipe like this from Ma’s late aunty – my grandmother (Mami Dida).  I think grandmothers are a repository of awesome tips & recipes; and so was she, an accomplished cook who could even make a simple dish like daal, tasty!!  Her prawn curry (Chingdir Jhol) was totally out of this world!! I wasn’t lucky enough to taste much of her cooking as my trips to Chandernagore (her home) weren’t too often.  But whatever little I have eaten from her kitty, has left an indelible mark on my memory….so here is the recipe..

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Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok (Hilsa Fish’s head in a Tamarind gravy)

2 Hilsa fish head, cleaned and cut into halves

2 medium sized Onions

2 tsp Panchphoron dry roasted and powdered                                                                             (Bengali five spices – mix 1 tsp each of cumin seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds)

1 tsp Turmeric

A table-tennis ball sized Tamarind ball soaked in water

5 tbsp Mustard oil

Salt, sugar and red chilli powder to taste

Fresh Coriander leaves to garnish

Wash the heads well and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt and turmeric on it. Mix well and leave for 2-3 hours.  Then heat the mustard oil well in a deep pan and fry the heads (its best to deep fry them, but I didn’t do so as I don’t have a kadhai or wok). Don’t forget to cover the pan or else hot oil would splatter all over.  Fry till both sides are golden brown.  The Hilsa flavored oil left in the pan tastes wonderful with hot rice and bit of salt, but only a true blue Bengali can understand that taste and swoon over it 😛 So I set aside some of the oil for rice and in the rest I fried 2 onions that I had finely sliced.  When they were complete caramelised, I poured in the tamarind pulp, turmeric, sugar, salt and chilli powder.  Check the seasoning (I like it sweet, very sour and pretty hot!!).  Then add the fish heads and 1 tsp of the roasted and powdered panchphoron.  Simmer for 5-7 minutes on medium fire and then add another tsp of the spice powder.  Take off from the fire, garnish with freshly chopped coriander and serve with hot rice!!

Any other fish can be made the same way, but I think that the taste of Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok cannot be replicated!! What say?

Sending loads of love,

Dakhina