Bombay Duck on a Mumbai plate!


The saying goes that you haven't been to Mumbai till you've tried Bombay duck or bombil! The wobbly, delicate fish is almost synonymous to the city's culinaryscape and consuming it is a must-do on a list of things to eat when in Mumbai. It's also safe to have this fish during the monsoon. While it's essentially enjoyed in two forms — fresh and dried (salted) — different communities actually have their own quirky take on preparing it...
Regional twist to the 'tail'
Food expert Anjali Koli talks of the frying process. "Mangaloreans use rava (semolina) for coating, in Goa, it's a mix of rava and rice flour, towards the Konkan side, they use rice flour and Koli masala and East Indians rely on their bottle masala," she says. For fresh bombil there's another classic method. "In Raigad for lunch, they make 'kanji', a thin, tangy curry with masala, pieces of bombil but no coconut," she adds. Dried bombil also has a special connotation. "One, the half-dried Bamboo ke Bombil, named after bombil dried on bamboo scaffolding. This is not soft, but has an intense flavour. The other is completely dried, where you have to first soak pieces in water to rehydrate them and then make a curry," she says. City foodie Kunal Vijaykar talks of the Pathare Prabhu-style of making bombil. "It's called Bombay Ducks with Fresh Banana (see his recipe in box) and it has no coconut. The gravy is spicy-sweet with plump fresh white bombils; it tastes great with rice," he informs.
In Mangalore, bombil is the appetiser. "There, it's made with ginger-garlic and chillies and served as a starter — fried or rawa-coated with red chutney (chilli and coconut-based) and a green one," says foodie Devdas Ankur.
Deep-fried Bombil
This is the classic preparation and once folks make this, they rarely opt for another recipe. Says food blogger Shireen Sequeira, "My husband and I always considered buying Bombay Duck, but gave it a pass and settled for other types of fish as this looked too wobbly. But we eventually tried the deep-fried version. We marinated the fish, then coated it with batter, which made the crust so crispy and firm that we fell in love with it."
Method: Take 10 Bombay ducks, clean and pat them dry.
Marinate the fish with a tsp of chilli powder, ½ tsp turmeric powdesr, salt and lime juice. Keep aside for half an hour.
Heat oil. Mix 3/4th cup rice flour and 1 tbsp cornstarch in a bowl. Place each side of the fish on this mixture and coat well.
Slide the fish into the oil and fry each side.
Remove and place on tissue. Serve with hot rice or have it plain with green chutney.
Bombay Duck Pickle
Bombay duck lends itself well to pickles, owing to its distinct flavour, says chef Sudhir Pai. "This version of Bombay duck pickle is an old Goan recipe and needs sun-dried Bombay duck. It goes with curry and bread," he says. He shows how to make it:
Ingredients: Dried Bombay ducks — 15
Shallots (red onions) — 200g
Ginger root — 50g
Garlic flakes — 50g
Sunflower oil — 100g
For the paste
Cumin seeds (jeera) — 50g
Dry red chillies — 50g
Turmeric powder — 25g
Carom seeds (ajwain) — 25g
Peppercorn — 10g
Salt — to taste
Malt vinegar — 100ml
Method: Soak the masala ingredients in vinegar overnight. Grind to a fine paste next morning. Soak the sun-dried Bombay ducks for 15-20 minutes and wash them clean of all salt. Break these Bombay ducks into small pieces. Set aside. Peel and finely mince the shallots, ginger root and garlic. Heat oil in a wok and add the minced ginger-garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes and add the minced shallots. Saute till shallots are soft and translucent. Lower the flame and add in the ground masala paste. Saute for 8-10 minutes till the aromas waft up. Add salt to taste and saute for five more minutes. Stir in the dry bombil pieces. Cover and cook for 10 minutes till all the flavours are well mixed. Cool and bottle in a dry, airtight jar. Lasts for about week without a fridge.
Bombil Coconut Curry
This a Koli recipe. Says Anjali, "When cooking, you make the masala-coconut paste separately with chilli powder, koli masala (blends are available in markets), turmeric, cumin and green chillies. First, cut the bombils into three pieces, rehydrate the bombils and then add them to the curry. You usually cut the bombils into three pieces each. The fish is strongly flavoured so they add a rich aroma to the curry. Have it with steamed or plain rice or phulkas.
Food blogger Manisha Talim has this recipe that's a favourite in Maharashtrian households. "You heat 1/2 tsp oil. Add the ground paste of 1/2 tsp each of ground ginger, garlic, coriander and green chilly and saute this. Add salt, red chilly powder and one tbsp gram flour as well as the bombils and cook them for 5 to 7 minutes. Squeeze lime on top and serve it hot," she says.
Bombay Duck with Fresh Banana
For this, take fresh Bombay ducks and mix them in a masala of garlic, onion, red chilli powder, haldi, coriander and a pinch of hing, as well as raw (almost cooked) bananas, which taste semi-sweet. Cook the fish and spices together to attain a thin, spicy-sweet curry, says Kunal Vijaykar.
Stuffed bombil: Bharlela Bombil
Bharlela Bombil or bombil stuffed with prawns, is a hot favourite dish with seafood lovers, says chef Bala Subramanian. He shares his recipe: Ingredients: Bombil — 4 large pieces, deboned and washed.
Green chilly — 6 nos
Coriander leaves — 150g
Grated coconut — 100g
Ginger-garlic — 20g each
Finely chopped onions — 50g
Tiny prawns — 100g
Salt, oil, turmeric — 1tsp each
For coating:
Rice flour as required
Coriander powder
Jeera powder
Health benefits: 'It's high in protein'
Says clinical nutritionist Priya Karkera, "Bombay duck is a fish with an exceptionally high protein content. Although it has very low fat content, the Indian preparation usually includes more amounts of fats while cooking, hence can be given to heart patients and diabetic patients if made in a curry form using limited oil. However, one must be cautious while consuming the dried fish as the salt content in them is much higher than the wet ones."

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