For a large part of my childhood, Kolkata, remained the city of winter vacations,wrapped in embroidered Kashmiri shawls and smelling of rich brown fruit cakes. December was the only time of the year when we would be spending one whole month at my Dida's home, eating, lazing and generally having the kind of time which memories are made of. Somewhere nestled among the sun soaked winter afternoons in Alipore zoo, escalator rides at RBI and the Birla museum, there were also "biyebaris", weddings of several removed cousins of my Mother's and the wedding feast catered during the occasion.
The menu at these biyebaris scored high above those in our mofussil towns and the one thing I liked most about them was the "fish fry" served with slivers of purple onion and mustard at the start of the meal. Fillet of fish, usually Bhetki, was rolled in a coating of eggs and breadcrumb and then deep fried, to make the brown, crunchy fish fry. This technique, I later learned, is called "breading". One bite in the the crunchy outer layer, revealed the sweet fish inside, taking you straight to food heaven.
"Fish Fry" was a rage in the late 70's and early eighties in Kolkata and a wedding feast was not complete without them. Other than the weddings, fish fry was also sold at some restaurants and my uncles would often bring them home, packed in a paper bag with tell tale signs of oil spots and an aura of fried food around them. This delicacy was not available in the town we lived and so after a year's wait, the breaded fish fry in Calcutta seemed as magical as a snowflake to the child in the tropics.
When I asked my readers on Facebook, to nominate a Bengali dish to represent "F" in "A-Z of Bengali cuisine", a huge number said Fish Fry. Totally after my heart. This delightful and delicious example of the Anglo-Indian influence on Bengali cooking definitely deserves to be featured in "F".
The Anglo-Bangla Fish Fry
However I noticed that a substantial number of votes in the same thread went for "Fish Orly" Some were more specific and said "Bijoli Grill's Fish Orly". Now Fish Orly, is a batter fried fish preparation which I had never been particularly fond of. I am not a Kolkata veteran and the few times I have tried the "Bijoli Grill Fish Orly" at Nandan, I have not been blown off my feet. Maybe it is just me but I found "fish orly" greasy and not a match to the crunchy breaded "fish fry".I am sure, I ate fish orly at the wrong places all the time, and that is the reason never really appreciated this masterpiece.
At that time I had no idea what an "orly" was supposed to be, but cooking makes you learn a lot of things and only last week I learned that -- "À l'Orly is a French cooking term used to describe a preparation method usually used with fish fillets. The fish is usually a white fish such as sole, perch or cod.The fillets are skinned, battered and deep fried."
By the early 90's "fish orly" and "fish butter fry" (probably a mispronounced "fish batter fry") had shoved "fish fry" off the Bengali wedding menus. Bijoli Grill caterers were primarily responsible for introducing Fish Orly to the Bengali palate and most people loved it . They raved about it. The only thing I liked was the rolling of the french sounding name on my tongue. It made me feel oddly Parisian without an ounce of idea that "orly" was a French cooking term. I was clearly the square peg.
After the Facebook comments however, I decided to look up the hoo-haa over "Fish Orly". The technique sounded pretty simple. I had some swai filet in the freezer waiting to go in the oven. All else looked good, so instead of the oven, the fish's fate were decided in the orly. "If the Universe conspires and so forth..." .
I marinated the fish almost same as in a Fish Fry, a tad simpler actually. Then for the batter, I used an amalgamation of recipes on the internet for "batter fried fish". Some suggested corn flour but I skipped it. Flour, eggs, water, baking soda was it. Maybe a little more of the baking soda would have made the coating more airy but I decided to stick to a pinch. On a cold winter evening, the hot fried fish tasted pretty good. The girls loved it to the hilt. I still found it oily and realized that it tastes best when had right off the fryer.
Maybe that is why I never liked it in all those years ?
Fish Batter Fry or Fish Orly
I had fillets of Swai cut in 10 pieces. Each piece was about a 3"x 2" piece or smaller. You can use fillet of fish like Bhetki if in India or Cod, Tilapia when Bhetki is not available.
Make a paste of
2-3 fat cloves of garlic,
1 tbsp of peeled & chopped ginger,
2 green chili
with little vinegar. This is the paste that will be used to marinate the fish.
Alternately marinate with
1 tbsp of ginger paste(homemade)
1 tbsp garlic paste
Put the fish pieces in one single layer in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on them.
Marinade the fish pieces with
the paste from step 2,
1 tbsp of vinegar,
squeeze of a quarter of lime
Make sure that all of the fish pieces are nicely coated with the marinade
Cover & refrigerate overnight. If in a hurry, half an hour to an hour is fine.
For the batter
In a bowl sift
1 Cup of All-Purpose Flour/Maida
a pinch of baking soda(approx. 1/4 tsp)
salt to taste
pepper powder to taste
To it add
1 egg beaten
1 Cup of Water
1 tsp of vegetable oil
Whisk to make a smooth batter like you would for pancakes. Keep the batter aside for 10 minutes
Now heat enough oil for deep frying
Dip each piece of fish in the batter to coat and then deep fry in hot oil. Keep the heat to medium-high during frying. Fry each side for about 3 minutes each until the fish gets a golden coat.
Eat 'em hot.
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