Wedding-Style Fish or Shrimp

Lagan No Sahas

At Parsi wedding banquets, fish is the first thing to be brought around in deep round trays, one man holding, the other serving it onto the waiting banana leaves. It can be patra ni machhi, fish wrapped in banana leaves, but more often it’s pieces of pomfret in a sweet-and-sour cream sauce made with eggs and vinegar, barely cooked cherry tomatoes dotting the top. There’s no part of a pomfret that isn’t good, so the servers seem entitled to mutter about everyone wanting tails and how many tails is a fish supposed to have?

Bhicoo Manekshaw writes that this dish may well have been a nineteenth-century Parsi interpretation of the decidedly uninteresting English-style fish in white sauce. There are other, more elaborate, versions, but I like the relative simplicity of my mother’s method. The recipe works with a variety of white-fleshed fish such as pompano, snapper, flounder, cod, sea bass, or the Parsi favorite, pomfret; you can even use shrimp, in which case the dish becomes kolmi no sahas.

Serve lagan no sahas with homemade Potato Wafers or with its traditional accompaniment of khichri—the dry, fluffy kind, in which case the dish becomes khichri sahas, a festive meal. For the sake of color on the plate, accompany khichri sahas with a vivid green vegetable like zucchini or spinach, or with a simple lime- and salt-dressed dish of sliced cucumbers and ginger.

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Ingredients

Fish

  • Salt
  • 1 ½ pounds white fish steaks, thick fillets, or chunks, or 1 pound small to medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly pounded
  • 3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 6 green chiles, slit to the stem
  • 1 large onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped or grated (optional; leave out if you want a white sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Indian chilly powder
  • ½ cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) stems and leaves
  • 3 cups water

Sauce

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup cane or rice vinegar
  • 1 cup small cherry tomatoes
  • 6 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), for garnish

Method

  • To make the fish: Sprinkle salt over the fish and set aside. Heat the oil to medium in a pan large and deep enough to hold the fish and its poaching liquid. Add the cumin seeds, garlic, and chiles and sizzle for a minute. Add the onion and let it soften without browning. The optional tomato goes in now. Add the cayenne and fresh coriander. Stir the mixture before adding the water and a small amount of salt. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the fish and let it poach gently until barely cooked through. Carefully remove it from the cooking liquid and set it on a warm serving dish. Reserve the cooking liquid.
  • To make the sauce: Just before serving, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vinegar. Pour the mixture into the poaching liquid over low to moderate heat without letting it boil. This is very important. Use a whisk to combine the poaching liquid and eggs and cook a few minutes until they thicken into a creamy sauce. Taste for salt and sweetness. Add the cherry tomatoes and barely heat them so that they don’t collapse into the sauce before you serve the dish, yet don’t squirt rudely when you bite into them.
  • Pour the sauce over the fish. Strew a few sprigs of coriander over the top.
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