Something that I thought I would never eat back in 2007, ended up being one of my most favorite Goan dishes. Dried Fish curing in a fiery red marination is definitely unusual for an European but when I was introduced to the fried Goan Para fish served with a mountain of rice and a good dose of Dal, I was instantly hooked by the flavor tango on my tongue.
At the beginning of my Goan journey I would take a walk in the neighborhood. Often I would notice a fish like odor in the air while passing local houses. It was a quiet area with plenty of trees neighboring the most beautiful rice fields one could imagine. Yet I would notice the smell during the Indian summer only, which is from April to June, and at that time the fields would be very much dry and anything but pretty. Anyway, in time I got to know that a local tradition involves in drying fish and prawns before the humid monsoon season kicks in.
Goans are massive fish eaters! Nearly every day fish is served for lunch with a load of rice or some chapatis, dal, fish curries, vegetable bhajis and sometimes even some spicy pickle. The monsoon can be very dangerous for fisherman and therefore the state of Goa makes sure to place a ban on fishing during the heavy rain falls. That in turn results in a hike in seafood prices and that’s when the locals take it in their own hands and turn into skilled fishermen. This is truly a fish country!
But because fish would be still very much rare during the wet rains, people came up with a food innovation. At the time when refrigerators and kitchen gadgets were a wonderful dream, people came up with curing techniques to preserve food for long rainy days. Vinegar, Chili, Turmeric and Garlic are some of the most powerful bacterial killers out there and people knew that they had to take advantage of such wonderful kitchen helpers. Extra precaution was taken by drying the seafood exceptionally well and the same would be washed with only vinegar before being stored and covered with a finely hand ground paste in traditional cooling earthen pots.
Nowadays the Goan marinated Para fish pickle is mostly stored in covered glass jars and the paste is ground with handy kitchen gadgets instead of the laborious lengthy grinding of the spices from scratch. My husband would say that the old method would result in a tastier Para version and he might be right since the spices would be ground with local stoneware. It is said that the stone lends the spices a down to earth flavor which intensifies the wonderful natural taste experience.
The chosen fish is the humble mackerels which is salted and dried in the hot sun for days if not weeks before it can be used. We in Goa get to buy dried fish from local ladies, so we at here don’t dry it from scratch but if you have no choice then just salt it and keep it in a big tray to dry in the sun. Of course this can only work if you have sufficient sun. Once the fish is dry, cut off the head and tail and take out the dry stomach thingy and leave to dry once again as directed in the recipe. Usually crows don’t come to eat the fish because it’s heavily salted but you can never know so be aware.
The Para dried fish pickle needs to be cured for a month and more. In fact the longer you leave the jar alone in a corner, the better it will taste at the end. The marination needs to penetrate the dried fish and the latter needs to soak in all the spicy goodness, so that when it comes to the frying time of the para, the flesh of the fish is soaked by the important marination.
The frying process won’t take you much longer then 2 minutes on each side with 2-3 Tablespoons of cooking oil, making it one of my go to dishes to make when I am hungry but out of time. This is not a stand alone dish, oh no, the para is best enjoyed with some homemade goan Dal. You can always add one or two vegetable stir fries, so called bhajis, as another side with your rice and lentil curry. And all these dishes are easily and quickly prepared. No wonder that I started out with these goan dishes and I believe anybody can make them at home.
Don’t be fooled by the look of the dried goan para fish because you will miss out if you don’t try it some time. When visiting Goa, Andrew Zimmern sighted some para fish in the mapusa market. His guide apparently didn’t tell him that the para was never eaten by itself. Well Andrew, your bad… You should have been enjoying the para with a homemade dal and you would have been in food heaven. The Bizarre Food episode shot in Goa is underneath and some of you might notice that he is using some weird words in some parts, as for example the choriz sausage part in the video. It would all look and sound kind of fake to a local, as if it was a different place, just saying.
By the way this is not my first fried fish recipe here. Some of you might remember the unusual Bombay duck (which is a fish type). You can find the preparation for the bombay duck here.
- 24 salted dried Mackerels
- 1½ liter Coconut Vinegar or White Vinegar
- 2 glass jars each at 1 kilogram
- 40 red Chili dried
- 20 big Garlic cloves
- 4 inch Ginger
- 1 Dessertspoon Peppercorns
- 40 Cloves
- 4 inch Cinnamon stick
- 1 Dessertspoon brown Mustard seeds
- 2-3 Tablespoon cooking Oil
- A few days before you make the marination prepare the dried fish by cutting of the head and tails and take out the innards. Keep the dried fish for 2-3 days in the hot sun to dry a bit further.
- A few days later, just before you intend to blend the marination, twist the stem off the dried red chili and discard the stem. Wash your chili in 2 cup of vinegar before adding them into a mixing bowl with all the other spices and all the remaining vinegar, which include, garlic, ginger, peppercorn, cloves, cinnamon stick and brown mustard seeds. Leave to soak for 2-3 hours.
- Wash the dried mackerels in the 2 cups of Vinegar which you used previously to wash the chilis, so to get rid of any impurities. Discard the 2 cups of vinegar once finished. Place 12 fish in each of the 2 glass jars. Keep aside.
- After soaking the spices, mix the whole content and place a batch first into a blender jar with some of the vinegar. Blend to a smooth paste. You will have to add more vinegar while it blends to a smooth paste and once you are done with one batch blend the remaining spices to a smooth paste. You will require all the remaining Vinegar for this.
- Add all the paste into a cooking pot and keep on slow to medium heat. Allow it to bubble and stir frequently, then take it form the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before filling your fish jars with the paste. Fill the glass jars until the fish is covered completely to the glass border.
- Store in a dark, dry and cool place and only use after 1 month, when the fish is well marinated. I like to leave it untouched for 2 months before I attack it.
- You can fry the fish once it’s marinated. To do so add 2-3 Tablespoons of cooking oil to a frying pan and heat up. Once the oil is hot, take 1-2 fish per serving carefully out with a spoon and place into the hot pan. Fry first on one side for 2 minutes and then on the other side for another 2 minutes. Some oil always jumps out so you might want to cover the pan while it’s frying so to save you some cleaning time.
- Serve with Rice and Dal and some bhaji of your choice.
A Big thanks to my mother in law and my sisters in law for helping me with the preparation of the Goan Para fish and for sharing this traditional family recipe with us.
Have you ever had a meal with dried fish in your life?
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