Flatfish are common in India one of the most important fisheries being the Malabar Sole or Lep as it is known in the vernacular in Maharashtra. Scientifically known as cynoglossus semifasciatus it is found in greater numbers in the waters of the Indian Ocean on the east coast and in the estuary of the Godavari, for which reason it is more commonly known as the Bengal tongue-sole in English. It is also found around Sri Lanka where it is native.
I buy sole at the Kirkee fish market which is open till late in the evening. They stock a lot of river fish, eel, shark and other species which are not always available in other areas of the town.
Other common names for sole are Nangu in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada. It is also referred to as Manthal in Kerala and Nakkumeen in Tamilnadu.
Since there are 137 species of tongue fish it is likely that one can be mistaken for a different variety in different states. The Kukur jeebh of Bengal is also referred to as Bengal tongue sole in English( note: without a hyphen) but its scientific name is cynoglossus cynoglossus, thus a different species.
Relatively inexpensive as compared to the pomfret, sole is a common food fish especially amongst the poor. Is is not, however, as rich in Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, as in fish like the salmon and mackerel .
Like other tongue fish it feeds on the ocean and estuary floors and is fished in the ocean only when it comes in to fairly shallow waters in September and October. During the monsoon, shoals tend to go out into deeper waters. At the end of October they migrate out again to breed, returning only at the onset of the monsoon. The biggest catches are, however, on the Malabar coast between Kadapuram in Thrissur district and Edakkad in North Kerala.
The Malabar sole, as with all tongue fishes, has both its eyes on the left side of its head and can be recognized by its shape which is ovoid in the front and pointed towards the tail.
The following simple fried fish recipe is good for all flat fish.
Fried fish - Tala hua macchhi
Serves 2-3 people
- ½ kg small Malabar sole fish (about 6).
- 6 tbsp rava / semolina
- 2 tsp salt
- ½ tsp haldi / turmeric
- 2 tsp red chilli powder
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 limes cut into quarters
Clean sole by peeling off the skin. It comes off really easily. Cut head and wash well.
Mix all the masalas and rub on both sides of the fish. Let it stand for half an hour. Now spread the rava / semolina on a plate and coat both sides of all the fish. Heat half the oil in a large non stick frying pan and fry three fish at a time. Brown well on both sides for 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately with lime quarters and tomato chutney.