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lobster roe in Indian foodways


v. gautam
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Dear Friends,

Can you shed some light on how ‘lobster’/crab roe or tomalley are relished in various cuisines in India? Here is my experience from west Bengal.

Most Hindu west Bengalis profess abhorrence for the slightest hint of ‘raw fish smell’ [shunning, for example, the east Bengal practice of using ‘raw’ (i.e. not pre-fried) fish steaks in various stew-like preparations]. Perhaps in western Bengal, with its greater reliance on pond-reared fish, odors contributed by muck and algal compounds like geosmin may lie behind such attitudes.

There is one interesting dish, however, where this seemingly impregnable prejudice is set aside and the West Bengali comes closest to eating a raw piscine element. This is the case when ‘lobster’ bodies [as they are known in the US] or ‘golda chingri’ (Machrobrachium rosenbergii) heads in Bengali are prepared for occasional feasts, especially bridal showers (where only married women are present).

[Why showers? As these things are very expensive, and showers involve a fraction of the guests attending wedding feasts, a number of excellent dishes are often showcased at the former. Also, marriages are more frequent in winter, and the egg-laden giant prawn is at its best then.]

The lobster body, minus the entire meaty section or ‘tail’, is carefully extricated from the carapace, leaving its protective sheath undamaged. It is marinated in onion-ginger juice, with a bit of turmeric, salt and chili powder, then reinserted into the carapace. Dipped in a light chickpea batter, its deep-frying tests the cook’s skills.

Served hot early in the meal, the body is extricated once more and dismembered delicately to reveal a layer of well-done roe giving way to another layer warmed through, with the consistency of very soft-boiled egg, and then at last the prize, a gush of saffron-vermilion, soaking the pure white of the rice, redolent of [and I quote verbatim] ‘fragrans feminae, the scent of woman, wild, fetid, saline”!

Episure, the good Dr. Jones et al., looking forward to some pithy rejoinders!

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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The lobster body, minus the entire meaty section or ‘tail’, is carefully extricated from the carapace, leaving its protective sheath undamaged. It is marinated in onion-ginger juice, with a bit of turmeric, salt and chili powder, then reinserted into the carapace.  Dipped in a light chickpea batter, its deep-frying tests the cook’s skills.

My mother-in-law made a different, but something similar to this for my brother-in-law's birthday (not in the baby shower, as I said earlier, before the edit). She used the big tiger prawns, somewhat similar to bagda chingri, and made a dish from the marinated whole head of the prawns, in a light chick-pea ("besan"/"bashon") batter.

I even have a picture, although the picture is not very good:

i12214.jpg

However, I have never heard of the custom of eating raw prawn/lobster roe in Bengal though, at least in West Bengal.

EDIT: photo and some corrections

Edited by bong (log)
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Bong,

You are quite right about it not really being raw. I meant ‘raw’ only in the limited or qualified sense that can be used to describe an egg soft-boiled or fried over-easy. In a vague way, I was also responding to the query of a long-ago thread asking if Indians ever consumed their seafood raw. I think this is the closest Bengal comes to actually eating underdone seafood.

Also, the ‘head’ of the golda chingri is often a bit larger and rounder than those of bagda prawns [striped tiger prawn, Penaeus monodon] within reach of the middle-class purse. This leads to a somewhat large portion of the ‘ghilu’ remaining in a more liquid state, adding to delectability as it is well-mixed in with steaming rice.

Thank you so very much for your photographs. You should write a thread about the usage of fish roe in Bengali cooking. Of the smaller, whole pan fish, Koi [Anabas spp., walking perch], Bata [a minor carp], parshey [a mullet], topshey [binomial unknown to me] and Bele [scatophagus spp.] , and tangra come to mind as ones especially prized when bearing eggs. Crabs too.

Of the larger fish, hilsa, rohu and catla carps would be most common, do you not think?

Do you remember eating pomfret at home? I remember how much we all grumbled at eating pomfret, as at Rs.12/kg it was cheaper even than the horribly bony chara pona [immature carp]. So it was a choice between nyadosh fish and pomfret; guess which one won out? How funny that pomfret should be so prized by other communities. Some Bangladeshis told me that they hold Bhetki in scant regard, and could not understand why it was so prized in west Bengal.

Anyhow, looking forward to YOUR thread on the fishes and fish cookery of Bengal! Seriously, please do start some threads, including one on puli pithey, which should go well with maple syrup.

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Also, the ‘head’ of the golda chingri is often a bit larger and rounder than those of bagda prawns [striped tiger prawn, Penaeus monodon] within reach of the middle-class purse. This leads to a somewhat large portion of the ‘ghilu’ remaining in a more liquid state, adding to delectability as it is well-mixed in with steaming rice.
This is true. And the "ghilu" that you mention is my favorite as well. When growing up, bagda chingri, being so expensive, was a real rarity, making its appearance only on extremely special occasions. Mostly, all I heard were stories of eating bagda chingri.
Thank you so very much for your photographs. You should write a thread about the usage of fish roe in Bengali cooking. Of the smaller, whole pan fish, Koi [Anabas spp., walking perch], Bata [a minor carp], parshey [a mullet], topshey [binomial unknown to me] and Bele [scatophagus spp.] , and tangra come to mind as ones especially prized when bearing eggs. Crabs too.

Of the larger fish, hilsa, rohu and catla carps would be most common, do you not think?

Indeed. Rohu and Hilsa roe also happen to be my favorites as well.

Different households prepare it different ways, I think. In our house, a "bora" (a small ball shape) would be made out of the roe and then it would be pan fried. Sometimes spices along with chopped onions would be mixed with it, sometimes not. Either way, it was (and still is!) delicious.

And we never thew away the mustard oil that the fish and roe (especially if it was Hilsa) was cooked in. The oil was eaten at the start of the meal, mixed with steamed rice, a bit of salt and a green chili.

(BTW, on http://www.fishbase.org , there is fish called "Topshi" listed. But the picture is so bad that I can't tell if thats the same as a "Topshey" fish or not -- http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSum...esname=sexfilis . I am also happy to report that my local Bangladeshi grocery carries frozen Topshey fish. )

Of the larger fish, hilsa, rohu and catla carps would be most common, do you not think?

Do you remember eating pomfret at home? I remember how much we all grumbled at eating pomfret, as at Rs.12/kg it was cheaper even than the horribly bony chara pona [immature carp]. So it was a choice between nyadosh fish and pomfret; guess which one won out? How funny that pomfret should be so prized by other communities. Some Bangladeshis told me that they hold Bhetki in scant regard, and could not understand why it was so prized in west Bengal.

In my family, when I was growing up, I was the one who least liked to eat fish. (even then I ate fish at least 4-5 times a week!). I was doubly renegade because I also ACTUALLY LIKED to eat Pomfret (because the bones were so easy to take out)!!. I believe, I was made fun of by a certain Dr. Jones right in this forum, for suggesting a "Shorshe-pomfret" (Pomfret in mustard sauce) recipe! But you are absolutely right, among Bengalis (including my house), pomfret is a fish that is held in very low esteem. Actually, traditionally, any "sea-fish" is held in low esteem by Bengalis. They mostly prefer river-water fish over any other.
Anyhow, looking forward to YOUR thread on the fishes and fish cookery of Bengal! Seriously, please do start some threads, including one on puli pithey, which should go well with maple syrup.
You must be joking. I am far, far from an expert in starting any thread about Bengali cooking, especially about cooking fish.

Regarding puli-pithey, now there's an idea I hadn't thought of before. Incidentally, luchis also go well with Maple syrup (which is similar in concept to the liquid jaggery called "nolen gur" in Bengal).

Conversely, I have found that pancakes (I sometimes make buttermilk pancakes) go really well with nolen gur.

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if you are thinking to use sweet potatoes in puli pithey, you may perhaps want to employ the ones from Okinawa. In the Bay area, a Japanese or Chinese greengrocer may have the requisite variety. If not, then the latino varieties will have to do.

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The lobster body, minus the entire meaty section or ‘tail’, is carefully extricated from the carapace, leaving its protective sheath undamaged. It is marinated in onion-ginger juice, with a bit of turmeric, salt and chili powder, then reinserted into the carapace. Dipped in a light chickpea batter, its deep-frying tests the cook’s skills.

I think I am going to like this recipe as I prefer crustaceans to be lightly spiced and not drowned in curries. I'll make an exception for fish.

A few months ago, I made lobster, Thermidor style in a light sauce of coconut milk, red chillis, shredded ginger dotted with curry leaf pesto(for want of a better word).

To make the pesto I saute the leaves and coarsely grind them with some roasted almonds and raw peanut oil.

Machrobrachium rosenbergii can be made the same way too.

I reluctantly confess that I am not much into roe. :sad:

Served hot early in the meal, the body is extricated once more and dismembered delicately to reveal a layer of well-done roe giving way to another layer warmed through, with the consistency of very soft-boiled egg, and then at last the prize, a gush of saffron-vermilion, soaking the pure white of the rice, redolent of [and I quote verbatim] ‘fragrans feminae, the scent of woman, wild, fetid, saline”!

Hoohaw! Gautam, and I thought you are a plant man. :laugh:

I've also never much cared about the ever popular pomfret, but that may be because I like to swim against the tide. :wink: The rains are coming to a close here and I am looking forward to cooking some new species of fish. If I can get away I am going to spend a few days camping at a River bank and hopefully land some Great Mahseer.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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I love gaboli (fish roe) :wub: !

My favourite recipe being slices of boiled roe covered in a red masala and fried… but I’ll not crib if it’s made into cutlets or a curry.

Unfortunately I do not get fish roe here (or I do not know how to get it) exceptions being, of course, caviar or salmon or lump fish roe :unsure:

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