This Fish Briyani is based on a recipe from my Aunty Vimala who inspired my interest in cooking when I was young. I can still vividly recall the enticing smells of spices cooking and the delicious flavour combinations that came from her kitchen. I wrote this recipe down, taking notes as she made it, when I last visited South Africa in 1997.
The spicy tomato chutney, fresh herbs, sweet caramelised onions and lightly fried fish combine to create a more-ish, layered fish dish that is delicious on its own or with youghurt, mango or mint chutney and pickles to the side.
This is a lovely dish to serve as part of a buffet lunch or dinner as it is actually nicer warm, rather than piping hot, and even better the next day.
Don’t put off by the number of steps and spices, it really is a matter of making each of the components seperately and then combining into the completed layered dish. Once you’ve done the prep it’s just a matter of putting it in the oven and because it can be prepared even a day ahead and reheated in the microwave it is excellent for entertaining.
Preparation time: 30-35 minutes Cooking time: 60 minutes
700g firm white boneless fish fillets like snapper or flathead, cut into medium size pieces (I used small flathead fillets in this recipe)
1 1/4 cups basmati rice par-boiled with 1/4 tspn turmeric to make it golden in colour
2 medium size brown onions sliced thinly
3 medium size ripe tomatoes chopped
5 cloves garlic chopped roughly
Large Knob (equal to amount of garlic)of ginger peeled
2 sprigs of curry leaves
2-4 small green chillies chopped finely
4 tablespoons coriander leaves and same amount of mint leaves chopped
1.5 cups chicken stock
5 tablespoons or so vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of butter
Dry Spices – (see quantities in method below)
Chilli powder, cummin powder, turmeric, fennel powder, cinnamon sticks, cummin seeds, fennel seeds, salt, sugar
1. Crush ginger and garlic together in a mortar and pestle.
2. Marinate fish fillets, for half an hour, at least with 1/2 tspn chilli powder, 1/2 tspn turmeric, 1/2 tspn cummin powder, 1/4 tspn fennel powder, 1/2 tspn crushed ginger and garlic, pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
3. Par boil basmati rice with 1/4 tspn turmeric, strain and set aside. Make sure rice is only half cooked or it will turn gluggy when cooked in oven.
4. Make tomato chutney: Heat oil over medium heat in heavy based pot, add 1-2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tspn cummin seeds, 1 tspn fennel seeds, curry leaves from both sprigs and fry until fragrant; add 3/4 of the sliced onions and fry gently until translucent, add 1/2 tspn chilli powder, 1/2 tspoon fennel powder, 1/2 tspn turmeric powder, 1/2 tspn salt, 1 tsp. sugar, add green chillies and rest of the ginger and garlic and sautée gently for 1 minute being careful not to burn spices, add tomatoes and 1 cup of chicken stock and simmer for 20-25 minutes until tomatoes degenerate and stock evaporates and oil starts to reappear. The resulting chutneys should be moist but not watery. Taste to see if extra salt is needed.
5. Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees Celsius
5. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in pan and fry fish fillets for 1 minute on each side to “seal” – remove from oil and drain on paper towel.
6. Chop coriander and mint roughly
7. Assembly: coat medium size ovenproof dish with 1 tablespoon of oil, put a thin layer of rice on the bottom, put a thin layer of tomato chutney over rice(remove cinnamon sticks from chutney), sprinkle 1/2 of fresh herbs over the tomato chutney, place all the fish gently on top of the chutney, put remaining chutney over fish trying to spread evenly across dish, sprinkle remaining mint and coriander on fish, add remaining rice to cover fish. Using a spoon sprinkle 1/4 cup of stock over rice. Cover dish with foil or lid and place in oven for 35-40 minutes. Check on dish to add more stock if rice is drying out too much. Ten minutes before the end, add little “dollops” of butter across surface of rice, cover again before placing in oven for last ten minutes.
8. Fry remaining sliced onion in oil or butter until golden brown and lightly caramelised, drain on paper towel.
9. Remove dish from oven, sprinkle with onion and herbs for coriander and mint for garnish. Allow to rest for 10-30 minutes.
10. Serve as a feature dish in a buffet with yoghurt raita, salads, pickles and chutneys of your choice.
Serves 3-4 depending on size of serves