Swai fish and Hindi spices

Tonight I used an Indian recipe for fried fish. I’ve made this before, but I’ve never had it turn out this well. The batter was crispy, and fish had a flavor (spicy, tangy) and texture (soft and flakey) that tickled me just right.

Fried Swai Fish with lemon, daikon, and tostadas

This is a straight forward frying recipe, only with Indian spices:

  1. Dry the fish before frying by placing on an incline and patting dry. [pic].
  2. Cut into small pieces. Squirt with lemon juice. Add ajwain and cumin.
  3. Add the batter ingredients directly onto the fish, and then toss it all around with your hand to coat the fish. They are: besan, maida, bread crumbs and egg white. [pic].
  4. Deep fry. [pic].
  5. Sprinkle with amchoor and cayenne pepper. And salt. [pic].
  6. Serve with daikon, lemon and tostadas.

[Some comments on frying, taken straight out of science-of-cooking book How to Read a French Fry. First, don’t add salt until immediately post-frying. Second, if you’re not getting enough browning, add egg white or beer. (Don’t beat the egg — that would make a fluffier less crispy crust, which we don’t want in this case). A little beer helps brown with amino acids and sugar, like the egg’s protein. Third, it helps if the batter is cold before frying; it’s stickier. My swai fish had barely thawed and was ice cold, and this helped cool the batter. Finally, add some “break-in” used-oil to your fresh batch of oil; actually, all my oil was previously (but lightly) used, and it worked great. I saved some for future frying. ]

When making this meal, I realized once again that I might think in English, but I know my cooking ingredients in Hindi. What the hell are all these ingredients?

Maida: All-purpose Flour. Lives up to it’s name; it really is used for everything.
Besan: Chick pea flour. This is put in a lot of Indian fried food, including pakoras.
Ajwain: Trachyspermum copticum, carom or ‘ajwain-caraway’ seeds. This led to some confused Googling and Wikipedia’ing. They are not caraway seeds — actually that spice is caraway fruit, incorrectly called seeds — and they are not thyme, nor caraway-thyme. These are all different but related plants; they all contain thymol, which gives them that strong familiar smell. Ajwain has the strongest aroma and flavor of the bunch.
Amchoor: unripe green mangoes, dried and powdered. Sour and tangy, amchoor adds a great dynamic to the fried fish.

…and what is Swai fish? It’s delicious, is what it is, and very well suited for this recipe. The recipe worked well with other white fish; I just picked the swai today because it was on sale.

I really want to try this again with Greg Staples’ Szechuan peppercorn.


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