Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fish Batter Fry or Fish Orly -- Bengali Style

I think I have said a million times on my blog, that I have spent a big chunk of my growing up years outside Kolkata. And by outside, I do not mean merely the suburbs, the once quiet localities where now the city has encroached with malls et al. But I talk about  places still further, where if you boarded the express train at night after dinner, you would wake up just outside Kolkata with the morning sounds of "Cha-Gorom Cha-Cha Gorom" from the chaiwallahs. This is just to make clear that even though I have lived later in Calcutta later, I am not as familiar with the so-called institutions of Kolkata as many of you are.

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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  1. Wonderful write up . Although fish fries are still there and there are several outlets which sell them, fish orly is equally popular these days . Incidentally I also grew up in a suburb called chandannagire and my growing up years had seen fish fry as a delicacy

  2. To me fish fry/orly is synonymous to "biye bari". The main attraction in the menu. My mother always used to stop me from eating more than one fish fry her logic "fish fry kheye pet bhorasna pore aro bhalo jinis asche seta khete parbina" I still regret that...good post sandeepa as always

    1. Ha ha... I guess that was a thing with all bong mums. Paid kheye pet bhorasni..Bhalo Mondo khabi na tahole

  3. Dear Sandeepa
    How are you ? Thoroughly enjoyed the write up (as always) . To be very frank, I havent developed a taste yet , for the fish orle, but I make for others.. Will try your recipe, already vetki fillet has arrived . By the way , that 1/4 tsp sodi bicarb is more than enough, for this , guess why !! Stretch your knowledge a bit back to college chemistry , Gas volume, moles, Charles law , Boyle's law etc etc ..ha ha
    bhalo thheko

  4. I never liked the fish orly either. Like you said, I found it too greasy. I was a huge fan of the fish fry though. I'll never ever make fish orly because I will never achieve that crusty, crisp outer coating. Mine always ends up less crisp, less airy and unimpressive looking. Even my begunis are no way close to the choper dokaner beguni.

  5. Is there any other way to have the similar mouth watering taste without deep frying it? Of course we'll not get the biye bari taste.

  6. If fish orly or fish fry was on the biye-bari menu, the entire ordeal of decking up and going to the biye-bari would seem pointless. I love fish orly as much as fish fry, but only at biye-baris, where they would serve you right off the kadai! Yum!

  7. this is good one kindly send more details to manish@q8living.com

  8. I wish I could have one from the picture. It is mouth watering.

  9. Dear Sandeepa thanks for sharing this. I remember having this in Bijoligrill in south Kolkata for the first time with Russian Salad!!!


  10. Your write up always makes me nostalgic and makes me feel how much i miss kolkata.thank you for sharingyour experience abt fish fry.just loved it

  11. I think 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of baking soda is ok. just instead of plain water use chilled beer or chilled soda water to get that light crisp texture. it worked for me.

  12. Did not strike me that fish butter fry is actually fish batter fry :)...Thought the batter is actually a lot of butter , hence called so :D


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