Chepa Vepudu (Fish Fry)
As the Indian cookbook author Archana Pidathala worked to translate and rewrite her grandmother’s collection of recipes from Andhra, in southeastern India, one of the first dishes she mastered was chepa vepudu, a simple fish fry. In Kurnool, where Pidathala grew up, her family would eat the spicy, crisp fish dish when there was a fresh catch of murrel available, also called bull's-eye snakehead, a delicious freshwater fish. But almost any fish, cut perpendicular to the spine, into small steaks, will do nicely. Marinated quickly in a simple spice paste, and shallow-fried, the fish becomes golden and crisp all over, and takes on the flavors of caramelized ginger and garlic, browned coriander seeds and red chile. Be sure to use a nonstick pan, or a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, to keep the fish from sticking or the marinade from falling off.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 4large garlic cloves, peeled
- 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
- 1teaspoon red-chile powder
- 1teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1teaspoon ground coriander
- ½teaspoon turmeric
- 2 ½teaspoons kosher salt
- 1tablespoon lime juice
- ¾cup all-purpose flour, rice flour or semolina
- 2pounds fish steaks, such as bass, haddock, mackerel or swordfish, cut into about 6 1-inch-thick slices
- 6tablespoons neutral oil
- 1lime, cut into wedges
- 1handful cilantro sprigs
Step 1Using a mortar and pestle or a food processor, grind the garlic and ginger into a smooth paste, using a splash of water if necessary to catch the blade. Add the chile powder, black pepper, coriander, turmeric, 2 teaspoons of salt and lime juice, and mix until smooth. Add a scant tablespoon of water if the spice mix is packed and dry (it should be thick, but you should be able to easily spread it over the fish with your fingers).
Step 2Add flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a plate, mix well and roll the fish pieces around in it, coating each in flour. Shake off any excess flour, then gently rub the spice paste all over the floured fish pieces. Cover, and set aside to marinate for about 15 minutes.
Step 3Heat oil in a wide, shallow nonstick pan, or seasoned cast-iron pan, over medium heat. When the oil is hot, slide the fish pieces into the pan, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully flip over to cook another 3 to 4 minutes on the other side. The spice paste should be evenly browned and crisp in places, and the fish should be cooked through. (If the pan is small, don’t crowd it. Cook the fish in batches, removing any burning spice paste remaining in the pan after each batch, and adding more oil as needed.) Transfer cooked fish to a paper towel to drain, then to a serving platter with the lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.