A: The chance to share the food we cook with some paying customers has been an ambition of mine for a while. A step closer to achieving this ambition arose when I got the chance to cook a dish and sample it with customers at my friend’s restaurant in Epping. Pancham is a fine dining establishment serving Indian food for more than a year now. Located at the edge of Epping Forest in Essex and at the centre of the High Street, the restaurant has proved very popular with the locals providing a relaxed atmosphere to wind down and have an enjoyable dining experience. I decided to cook a cod curry, influenced by the spices of Pondicherry, and see how the customers react to my cooking.
For me the best part of the visit to Pancham is the last leg of the drive. Most of my drive is through a motorway. But once I am off the motorway, the last bit of journey is a drive through the Epping Forest with road signs warning the driver about running wild deer on the road. Although I haven’t seen any deer yet, the anticipation of encountering one keeps my eyes glued to the road.
The proportions of this dish are for 4-6 people and the cooking can be easily tuned to a restaurant (or visiting guests) scenario in which most of the cooking can be done before hand. The last bit of the cooking can be done when the guests are seated as it takes just 7 minutes to bring everything together and give the finishing touches. This cooking journey is very much like my drive to Pancham, the last bit being the most exciting part!
For the fish:
600 gm cod fillet (pollock, haddock or hake if cod is not available) cut into 4 cm slices
handful of fresh curry leaves
handful of fresh coriander leaves
50 ml vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urid dal (husked)
2 tsp turmeric
150 ml water
For the curry paste:
1 small onion, chopped
1 small tomato, chopped
80 gm dessicated coconut (or fresh grated coconut if available)
30 gm garlic cloves, peeled
2 fresh green chillies (hot)
1 Kashmiri chilli, stalk snapped
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp salt
Put all the paste ingredients in a food processor and blend to a thick paste, adding a splash of water if needed.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and urid dal and fry for a minute. Then add the paste and turmeric and fry for 3-5 minutes or till fragrant. The paste should have an even consistency at this stage.
Add the water and bring to boil. At this point you may decide to let the curry sauce cool down gradually and leave it ready for the next stage of cooking when the guests are ready to eat.
In this final part of the cooking, bring the pre-prepared sauce to boiling. Stir the sauce if needed. Bring in the fish pieces and let the mix simmer for 5 minutes or till the fish is cooked through. Make sure not to use any tools to stir once the fish has been added. If you need to distribute the heat, shake the pan gently instead. Cod is very delicate and will break if you are not gentle with it.
Switch off heating and add the fresh curry and coriander leaves. Serve it on a bed of fragrant basmati rice.