(Part one is here.)
Quick — name two differences and two similarities between these two kinds of fish: Indian Mackarel (bangda) and Pacific Sand dab.
First the differences:
1. Indian Mackarel swims around in the warm coastal waters around the Arabian Sea off the coast of India. While the Pacific Sand dab inhabits a different coastline altogether — the Pacific, around California, Oregon and Washington.
2. Another thing — while the mackarel has your basic fish shape, the sand dab is a bottom-hugging, sand-dabbing flat fish. Which means, its one eye migrated creepily over to the same side of its head as the other eye.
Now the similarities, which (to give away the point of this exercise) are far more interesting to me right now.
1. They are similar in size (8 – 9 inches), and found on grocery shelves prepared in a similar way — not as fillets or as a steak, but with the head and tail fins removed, skin on. So they both come with the central ribs intact. That is key.
2. And, because of the above similarity in form factor, both Indian Mackarel and Pacific Sand dab can be used to make the Malvani fried fish recipe!
Ah, what a long-winded way to arrive at the point that I couldn’t find bangda fish, so I substituted with sand dab! Readers of this blog: I have never promised brevity.
On to the main business, if I haven’t lost you already.
Malvan’s famous fried fish, using sand dab instead of mackarel:
Two sand dabs will make a single dinner portion. For two sand dabs, use 3-4 tablespoons of the Malvani fish paste. Also have at hand: some salt, some turmeric powder, and some farina (rava/sooji/cream of wheat).
Lay each down flat. Carefully cut open at the line of the central ribs bone, as though you are trying to fillet the fish. Open the fish like a book, but do not cut through. You can leave the bone in. Once it is cooked, it will be much easier to pry it out, I promise. Sprinkle salt and turmeric powder on the flesh.
Now spread a thin layer of the spice paste on both open surfaces of the fish. One of the surfaces will have the bone on it, this is fine, just apply the paste over.
Close the fish book. Spread paste on both outer surfaces. Now dip both sides in the farina to coat. If you are having trouble keeping the fish book closed, you can tie it closed with some kitchen twine.
Now heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick pan on high-ish heat. When it shimmers, lay the fish down on one side. Let it shallow-fry for 5 minutes or so, then flip it carefully, still closed, to cook for three minutes or so on the other side. Both sides should be browned when done.
One thing to note about Indian preparations of fish — by Western standards, one would consider them overdone. When fried on both sides, the flesh is quite dry, but it is kept succulent by the moisture in the spice paste. One wants to dry it out a little, because otherwise the spice paste will remain mushy, and one does not want that.
Have it as a side with rice and dal or rotis.