We have seen a total dip in the temperature in the last few days here in Qatar and the other GCC states as well. Cold weathers like this stir an urge to spend as much time near the warmth of the oven, concocting plenty of delightfully spicy noshes and nibbles to lift the spirit and keep the body warm. But compared to last January, when I published like 21 recipes, it looks like I’ve been on kitchen hibernation this year—just two recipes to credit so far. It seems like forever since I posted a savory recipe too. So today, I decided to come out of the rut and put a stop to all that.
With cold weather, the thing is, I’m always craving something hot and spicy. The kind of dish that will make my insides warm. Like this impressive sole dish.
It’s amazingly warming, deeply satisfying, and tastes heavenly too—perfect for winter. Hmm, did I tell you that I have a particular weakness for pan-fried dishes? Yes, I do. And this one has all the necessary qualities I prefer—use of Indian spices for a beautiful balance of tart and spiciness, with plenty of south Indian ingredient, curry leaves, thrown in for good measure, and a deliciously flavorful char on the crust. This makes an incredibly fast yet special weekday meal and has all the factors for elegant entertaining too.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times before how much fish or seafood are an important part of our daily meals. It is usually served and devoured at lunch time and reaches our dining table in the form of a simple or creamy curry, roast or pan-fried dish, or grilled awesomeness. Accompanying dishes like fluffy plates of steamed rice, comforting dal and nutritious vegetable sides are planned around this main dish. In brief, our lunchtime meals are thoroughly desi style. After all it is not easy to forget your roots or the flavors and aromas you grew up with!
I spent a good part of my early childhood at my mom’s place in Kochi, a port city in Kerala. My late grandfather owned fishing boats and we were fortunate to have ample supplies of the daily catch for our personal use. Though this was the case, the prospect of preparing seafood was never alluring to me, not even in my university days. Quite frankly, the fishy stench put me off the very thought of going anywhere near raw fish. Well, all that changed once I walked down the aisle. My husband loved all things fish. Period.
Fish is an excellent source of protein and this toothsome fry is made with the delectable flatfish, sole, known as manthal in Malayalam. The flaky texture and delicate flavor of sole is perked up with a spicy, zingy rub and then pan-fried with a liberal seasoning of chili flakes and curry leaves—a wonderful treat.
As well as sole, the rub can be used on any kind of fish you have. To make life easier, it can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator for a long time. I usually triple the recipe and store the marinade in the fridge to use as necessary. Ideally, small deep slashes are made across the fish fillet on both sides to insert spice flavorings into the meat before frying. However, I skipped this technique as the sole was very thin, and not robust. Now, instead of pan-frying, you can grill the fish in the oven at 2000C for an equally delicious result. Baking time will depend on the size of the fish.
Serve it dish as an appetizer, a light meal with a salad, or as a side with steamed rice.
Spice Crusted, Pan-fried, Sole — Manthal Fry
Prep:15 min, cooking: 15 min
750g whole small sole fish, skinned, scaled, heads removed, gutted and trimmed
lemon wedges, to serve
4 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon black pepper powder
1 teaspoon dry chili flakes
1 tablespoon oil
4 tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
1 green chili, sliced
1 green chili, sliced
4 small shallots
1 sprig curry leaf
salt, to taste
water, a splash, if needed
3 handful of curry leaves
2 teaspoon chili flakes
oil for shallow frying (use coconut oil for authentic taste)
Rinse the fish with lemon juice and water to rid of any raw smell; pat dry with kitchen paper. Sole can vary in size, so cut the larger ones into half, if you wish, or leave it as is.
Grind all marinade ingredients together in an electric spice or coffee grinder adding a splash of water, if necessary, to get a smooth paste. Season.
Roll fish in the marinade masala to coat liberally. Set aside for 10-30 min at room temperature. Store any remaining marinade, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month or in the freezer for a couple of months.
Heat little oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the curry leaves and then sprinkle 1 teaspoon chili flakes over the top. Place fish pieces over this and fry for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown underneath.
Before turning over, sprinkle over the remaining chili flakes and curry leaves on top, then turn over carefully without breaking the flesh, and repeat the process until the fish is just cooked through. Please note that the timing will depend on the thickness of the fish and the heat of the pan, so adjust accordingly. The fish is cooked when it flakes easily with a fork. You don’t want to overcook, as the meat tends to dry easily. If you are cooking in batches, adjust seasoning with chili flakes and curry leaves accordingly.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. The delicate flesh tends to break apart easily when cooked so be careful while handling. Serve with lemon wedges, alongside chickpeas salad, or hot steamed rice, if you like.