Dry Bombay Duck can be stored and prepared during monsoon. Photo: Gia Claudette Fernandes
With fresh fish and vegetables being scarce during the monsoon in Goa, dry fish and pickles take centre stage at rainy day meals.
The end of summer always reminds me of my grandmother and her obsession with preparing for the upcoming monsoon.
In fact, she would spend the entire summer hoarding various dry foods and condiments to tide over the long months of rain in Goa.
From dry fish and salted meats to pickled vegetables, her modest pantry in our village home had it all.
So that no matter how hard it rained between June and August, and even September, every sparse meal would be enhanced by just a touch of spice and tang.
It’s the same in kitchens across Goa, where people spend a good deal of time and effort prepping for the months when fresh fish and vegetables can be tough to come by.
My grandmother would always stock up on a variety of dry fish, from Bombay Ducks and prawns to mackerels and anchovies. She also made sure there were enough jars of parra to last us through the monsoon.
Parra is a delightful dry mackerel pickle that’s worth its weight in gold on days when the kitchen yields nothing else but boiled rice, and maybe a lone vegetable dish.
Made with garlic, ginger, red chillies and other spices, and a generous amount of coconut palm vinegar, the parra is lightly fried before eating, making it a great accompaniment to the Goan Xit-Codi (rice and curry) or even kanji (rice gruel).
Similarly, dry Bombay ducks and tiny shrimp and prawns are also meal enhancers in Goa during the monsoon.
Apart from being pickled, they are also cooked in a variety of ways, popular being the ‘chilli fry’, which includes fried onions, green chillies, ginger-garlic paste, some spice powders like red chillies, turmeric, cumin and coriander.
Boiled potatoes and finely chopped coriander leaves take the preparations up a notch, making them excellent side dishes to be enjoyed along with rice or bread.
Dry Bombay ducks are also fried to a crunchy goodness with just a hint of red chilli and turmeric powder, and can be a delicious side to a simple yet wholesome meal of rice, dal, and vegetables.
Apart from dry fish, our monsoon meals also get their extra bite from the variety of tangy, hot, and slightly sweet pickles that all Goans love.
My grandmother always made miskut (pickled tender raw mangoes), sweet and sour lime pickle (the taste of which remains unmatched for me to this day), and a delicious tendli or gherkin pickle (which I could eat by the bottle).
She would also wield her magic with fresh mussels, clams, and oysters, which she converted into the most decadent pickles ever.
Unfortunately, I cannot go back in time to taste my grandmother’s pickles again or even get her recipes for them.
But here’s a quick and easy recipe for a dry Bombay Duck dish that you could whip up on a rainy afternoon and relish along with some hot rice and dal for a good old dose of comfort food.
Dry Bombay Duck Chilli Fry
10-12 dry Bombay Ducks
2 potatoes – boiled, peeled, and cubed
3-4 onions, finely chopped
1-2 tsps ginger-garlic paste
4-5 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Salt to taste
A few sprigs of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1. Cut the dry Bombay Ducks into 1 inch pieces and soak them in some lukewarm water for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Heat some oil in a pan and toss in the green chillies and onions, and fry until the onions turn a light golden brown.
3. Then add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a couple of minutes.
4. Next, add the spice powders and mix well before tossing in the dry Bombay Ducks (after squeezing out all the water from them).
5. Since the dry fish already contains salt, do not add any at this point.
6. After 10 minutes, add the boiled and cubed potatoes and mix well.
7. Cook further for another 10 mins, check salt and seasoning before turning off the heat. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves and serve.
Gia’s love for cooking goes back to idyllic summer vacations as a child, when she watched in fascination as her paternal grandmother plucked chickens, fried fish, stuffed sausages, pounded spices, and stirred huge cauldrons of aromatic curries over wood fires in their family home in Goa. She promises to decode the vast repertoire of Goan cuisine and culture for you, from revisiting popular favourites to unveiling the lesser-known gems.