Pomfret is the party fish in this part of the world. If fish is served, at a lunch or dinner occasion, it has got to be pomfret. No Parsi wedding is complete without it . Pomfret takes pride of place on the menu and justifiably so. It has a delicate flavour, a central bone and is not too fishy.
When eating sea food I am almost spineless. Which means I don't like to fish the bones out of my mouth and prefer something not too spiky. Most Bengalis are adept at separating the bones from the flesh, even while chewing, a talent which I envy. It enables them to enjoy even the boniest of fish. They also crunch up fish skeletons with alacrity. Many sea food lovers would choke over lesser carcasses. I am told that Bengalis attribute their highly developed intellect (ahem) to their fish intake, which is pretty steep when compared to other communities .
Sadly, the price of silver pomfret has gone through the roof and it has become a delicacy for the wrong reasons. The fish monger slices each piece of fish like a diamond cutter works on each facet of a gem. Slowly and deliberately, setting each precious chip aside however microscopic.
Pomfret is also known as Butterfish, and is available throughout India, perhaps to a greater degree in Maharashtra. The three varieties are :
Silver Pomfret (Pampus argenteus) is known as Vichuda or Paplet in Gujerati, Saranga, Chandava, Papleet or Paplet in Marathi, Pomfret or Chandi in Bengali, Chandee or Ghia in Oriya, Chanduva or Nallachanduva in Telugu , Karuvaval in Tamil, Avoli, Velluvolli , Velutha Avoli in Malayalam, Manji or Thondrette in Kannada,Surangat in Konkani, Silver Pomfet or white pomfret in the UK, Palometon platero in Spain, Lowandg in Indonesia and Ilak in the Phillipines.
Pampus chinensis (Chinese pomfret)
which is often known by the same common name as the silver pomfret in different regions of India though it is not as widespread,
and Black Pomfret , Parastromateus niger which is known as Halwa in Hindi, Marathi and Gujerati , Karauthakoli or Karuvolli or Vellavoli in Malayalam, Karuvavalor, Vavval, or Vellaivaval in Tamil, Thellachanduva or Nallachanduva in Telegu, Thondrotte in Kannada, Slade or Butterfish in Australia, Palometa Negra in Spain, Black Pompano, Black Pomfret or Sweep in the U.S, Castoline Noire in France, Gebel in Indonesia, Kuro-Aji-Modoki in Japanese and, what do you know, Doggie in Australia
Of the three species the Silver pomfret is most common. Black pomfret is also widespread and Chinese pomfret, though familiar on the East coast, is rare on the West coast and not as readily available as the other two. Pomfret is fished extensively in the Arabian Sea from September to January and the season is at its height from October to the end of the year.
I like to bake pomfret as it retains its flavour and does not fall apart. Here is a recipe which always turns out well.
Baked Masala Pomfret Packets
To serve 4
4 small silver pomfret about 6" in length and about 300-400 gms each. Fillet , wash and clean,without removing the skin.
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp haldi / turmeric
1/2 coconut grated.
1-4 green chillies minced.
2 inches ginger peeled and roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic.
1 cup chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp jeera /cumin powder
2 tsp dhania/ coriander powder
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 piece of gur / jaggery or 1/2 tsp of brown sugar.
Make a mixture of the salt, pepper,chilli powder and turmeric and rub on the insides of the fillets. In a blender, grind all the other ingredients into a smooth paste . Place a fillet of pomfret on a piece of foil. Spread a generous amount of paste on it. Cover with the top fillet. Wrap into a neat parcel leaving a tiny pocket of air on top and place on a baking dish. Do the same with the other 3 pomfrets.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. When hot, place dish with fish inside and cook for 15-20 minutes till the flesh is white and flakes when tested with a fork.
Remove and serve hot with chapathies or rice. This is also delicious with crusty bread and a tomato salad.
(If you can get hold of some banana leaves you could use them instead of foil . If wrapped in banana leaves, steam the parcels in a covered steamer on the stove top for half a hour.)