Simple Seafood Stew

Khari Machhi

Khari machhi, which means “just plain fish,” is a dish so basic, so unadorned that Parsis consider it suitable for convalescents. Like so many simple things in Parsi food, its depth of flavor is astonishing. When my mother and I were making this dish together, I asked why we didn’t use adu lasan, the paste of ginger and garlic with which nearly every Parsi savory dish has to begin. “You don’t use ginger with fish,” said my mother sternly, but she didn’t have an answer to the inevitable “Why?” except to say that her mother said so. If her mother had been Chinese, she would not have been allowed to cook fish without ginger.

Use any type of white-fleshed fish you like, such as pompano, cod, snapper, or striped bass. Serve it with steamed basmati rice or another rice of your choice, ladling the poaching liquid over fish and rice alike.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 ½ pounds fish steaks, thick fillets, or chunks, or 1 pound shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ to ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly pounded
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1 to 4 green chiles, slit to the stem
  • 5 to 6 curry leaves, if available
  • 1 medium-large onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped or grated
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) stems and leaves

Method

  • Lightly salt the fish and set aside while preparing the poaching liquid.
  • Heat the oil to medium-high in a sauté pan wide enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Add the cumin, garlic, chiles, and curry leaves and let them sizzle a moment before adding the sliced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened without browning at all, a few minutes. Add the tomato and turmeric, letting everything stew together for about a minute before adding the fresh coriander.
  • Add enough water to poach the fish without drowning it, say 1 ½ cups, and salt lightly. Let the sauce cook for 5 to 10 minutes to gain some presence. Then lay the fish in the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil; immediately lower the heat, cover, and let cook a few minutes longer, until the fish is done.
  • Serve in a deep plate to hold the poaching liquid.
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