When I was a kid, the local fishmonger’s visit every Wednesday was something of a carnival for me. No sooner did his cycle bell chime, I dropped my toys, my cats or anything else I was playing with and zoomed down the stairs to my grandmother’s annoyance.
Fishes of different varieties and colour were splashing in his tiny basket. The fishmonger promised the freshest catch of the day and every week he would bring one big fish saved especially for my grandfather.
I remember the time he brought in the largest fish I had ever laid eyes on. It was giant river catfish or aari maas as we locals called it in Assam. It was almost four feet in length and barely fit into his basket, the tails knocking the cover off at sporadic intervals. It was bought and converted into the mesmerising tenga maas torkaari by my mother.
Years later, the fishmonger still visits every week when I am in town. A small aari was tucked away in his pot and we readily purchased it. Recently, I have been very inspired by French patisserie methods and their style of cooking. There was one recipe for pan frying a cod, served with some hollandaise sauce.
I had prepared the hollandaise a few days back and since the aari is a fish with no small bones, it was imminent that I make that dish.
Ingredients for a single server:
Two pieces of any boneless fish, filleted into four-inch slices, skin on (I used the aari fish)
A pinch of dried rosemary
A pinch of dried thyme
A teaspoon of smoked or regular paprika
Two garlic cloves, crushed slightly with the flat side of a knife
A tablespoon of lemon juice
A tablespoon of olive oil
A tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper
Fillet the fish and remove any large bones from the pieces. The fillets should roughly resemble the shape of a 5.5-inch smartphone with a thickness of about 1 to 2 cms. Leave the skins on.
Season the fillets with salt and pepper before rubbing the paprika on both sides as well.
Heat a small frying pan and add the olive oil and butter just as you see some black smoke emitting from it. We need a really hot pan for this recipe otherwise the skin will not crispen.
Add the rosemary and thyme, followed by the garlic cloves. Just as the garlic starts to sizzle add the fillets in with the skin-side down. Cook on high heat for just around two minutes.
Keep shaking the pan without actually touching the fish. This will stop any burning and ensure a nice colour underneath. After two minutes, flip the fillets and cook them for 30 seconds on high heat and about 2-3 minutes on low. Remove from the pan and let it rest to ensure that the meat cooks through. It is very important to rest the fish.
For the hollandaise sauce, which makes a batch of around 115 grams:
The yolk of one egg
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
A pinch of salt (skip this if using salted butter)
Half a teaspoon of paprika powder
100 grams of unsalted butter (salted works as well)
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
In a large glass bowl, add the egg yolk, paprika powder and the white wine vinegar and combine. Place the bowl over a double boiler with the water reaching a bare simmer, but not boiling. The water should not touch the bowl.
Stir the yolk-vinegar mix heavily for about 5-7 minutes or till the yolk is cooked and the mix has tripled and thickened with a pale yellow colour. The trick is to keep removing the bowl from the double boiler while whisking so as to not overcook the egg, else you will scramble it.
Remove from the boiler and gently add the melted butter in very small batches. Remember to add the next batch only after the previous one had combined completely. The sauce will now be taking shape and start to thicken even more. If you feel the need to loosen it a touch, just add a teaspoon of warm water after you are done adding half of the melted butter.
Soon, all the butter would have combined and you will be left with a thick sauce, with the consistency resembling an Alfredo sauce. Add the lemon juice and check for seasoning.
To store the sauce for immediate use, heat a water thermos by pouring boiling water into it and emptying the water completely. Then, pour the hollandaise sauce over, which will ensure that the sauce stays runny and smooth until the time you serve it.
If you want to use it a day or two later, transfer it to a butter bowl and store in your fridge. The sauce can be kept refrigerated for up to ten days.
I used my fresh hollandaise sauce over some poached eggs, while the stored bit was used as breakfast butter, dip for potato wedges and finally, to accompany my pan-fried fish.
Hope you give it a shot. Happy cooking!