The simplicity of complex flavours in this Parsi fish curry ‘Saas ni Macchi’ feels like a symphony on the palate.
According to the Qissa-i-Sanjan (account of the early years of Parsi settlers on the Indian subcontinent), the Parsis fled to India from Iran, in mid seventh century, due to reasons of religious freedom. They were allowed to settle in India thanks to the goodwill of a local Hindu prince in the coast of south Gujarat. Although small in number this community in India has a rich culture that is defined by their unique traditions, beliefs and food. Parsi food has evolved over a thousand years, since the first boatful of Irani refugees landed in coastal Gujarat, through a dynamic route of assimilation and adaptation, buffered by an almost obsessive love for food.
The most notable part about the Parsi cuisine is that it has evolved and separated from Persian cuisine to carve a distinct niche for itself. Just like the Parsi community, the cuisine has adopted local ingredients and local spices to invent new dishes. Quintessentially non-vegeterian, with its uncomplicated and pleasing flavours, Parsi food is appeasing to the Indian palate with the quirky additions of eggs and potatoes in almost every dish.
This cuisine can be counted as the oldest ‘fusion cuisine’ as it brings together the flavours of Persia with the masalas and freshness of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. It also uses techniques from European cookery. It’s a beautiful amalgamation of all these cuisines. Thats the main reason for me to chose this dish, among scores of other delectable ones, to showcase the richness of this cuisine.
A dish meant for jashn (celebrations) and ceremonies, Saas ni Macchi is a must-served item in “lagan nu bhonu” (the spread in a Parsi wedding feast). It is also a popular home-cooked meal, generally accompanied by Khichri or plain Basmati rice.
Saas is a linguistic diversion of the word Sauce. Unlike most Indian and Parsi curries that depend heavily on spices; this Parsi white curry boasts of only two spice elements: fresh green chilli peppers and whole cumin seeds. But the part that really makes this fish curry stand out from its curry-peers, is the use of an egg-sugar-vinegar mixture, added at the end of the cooking process, to create a curry emulsion with magical taste.
The steps/stages in this recipe blends techniques from both Indian and French culinary traditions and hence needs some amount of cooking skills and experience.
Saas ni Machhi is cooked traditionally using pomfret fish. You can use any other firm white fish of your choice. Though, normally, sliced pieces are used in this curry, I have used whole pomfret. You can use fish fillet too. But a lot of care needs to be exercised while handling the fillets.
The other ingredients are: two medium tomatoes sliced, two green chillies sliced fine, one green chilli slit, coriander leaves diced, curry leaves, one and half teaspoon jeera (cumin), one teaspoon garlic paste, one and half tablespoon maida (flour), one egg, one tablespoon each of malt vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Ingredients not in picture are: one medium size onion diced fine, salt, sugar and cooking oil.
Parsis use sugarcane vinegar, form Navsari region in Gujarat, which is not widely available. Hence I have replaced it with malt vinegar. To thicken the sauce some use rice flour instead of wheat flour. You may chose whichever you are more comfortable cooking with.
Bring to boil half a litre of water in a pot. Add salt, curry leaves, garlic paste and slit green chilli. Allow it to boil for 5 mins until you get the aroma of the ingredients.
Reduce the flame. Add the fish to the boiling water and let it gently poach for about 5 to 7 minutes.
In a bowl add malt vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, egg and one and half teaspoon sugar. Beat it well with a fork until they mix well, keep aside.
After poaching for 5 to 7 minutes remove the fish from the water, keep aside. Use a sieve to remove the greens (curry leaves and chilli) from the water and throw them away. Preserve the water. The curry will be cooked with this fish stock.
Heat pan and add two tablespoon cooking oil. Once the oil gets heated, fry jeera (cumin) and sliced green chillies in medium heat until cumin starts changing colour.
Add diced onion and fry until onion becomes soft and translucent.
Add the flour to the pan and fry in low heat until you get sweet aroma from it. Take care to stir the flour continuously to avoid it from burning. Add half cup of water to the flour mixture and mix well. Make sure the flour slurry is smooth without any lumps.
Add half the fish stock and mix well again. Add rest of the fish stock, mix well and bring to a boil.
Once it comes to a boil, reduce flame to minimum, add tomatoes and coriander leaves.
Cover and cook on slow flame, stirring the liquid intermittently, until the sauce starts thickening. It should take about 3 to 5 minutes for the sauce to start thickening.
Add fish to the sauce, cover an cook on gentle flame for further 5 minute. This second stage will cook the fish completely. Remove the fish and the tomatoes from the sauce and keep aside.
Now, on a very low flame, stirring the sauce with one hand, slowly add the egg-vinegar mixture. You need to continuously stir the sauce while adding the egg. Otherwise the egg will coagulate and the sauce will not be smooth. Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes even after all of the egg mixture is added to the sauce. This will complete the cooking of the egg and eliminate the smell of rawness. Switch off the flame.
Arrange the fish and tomatoes on a serving platter. Pour the sauce over and around the fish. Garnish with green chillies and coriander leaves. Serve with Basmati rice. Enjoy the very different ‘savoury-sweet-sour’ white fish curry – Saas ni Machhi.