How about giving basa a miss and going local for better taste and health?
WITH produce being flown in from all over the world to satisfy our palates, creating high CO2 emissions, shouldn’t we pay more attention to eating local? This is where barramundi comes in. Indian coastlines used to be brimming with barramundi, but now they are confined to select areas in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Barramundi is considered to be an eco-friendly choice over popular imported varieties of fish like basa, and foood writer and host of The Real Food Podcast, Vikram Doctor, advocates passionately for its cause. “While the protein rich basa is plain, dull and tasteless, similar to paneer, the barramundi is rather ﬂavourful to simply give it a pass,’’ he says, adding, ‘‘Known in our country as Indian/Asian sea bass or bhetki and locally in Chennai as koduva, it is beautifully ﬂaky, slightly moist and its texture is unparalleled. It has only a central bone and will fetch a 50 per cent yield from every ﬁsh. With juicy ﬂesh, the oily ﬁsh offers better taste and is perfect for any batter or pan-fried preparation.” The highly knowledgeable Chef Praveen Anand at Adyar Crowne Plaza is another fan of this fantastic fish. “Based on our supply, we do a succulent Barramundi Tandoori Tikka and even a traditional Meen Kozhumbu and Chepala Pulusu at Dakshin. However, it’s our Grilled Barramundi with aromatics or the oven baked and spit-roasted versions that truly reﬂects the taste of an exquisite barramundi,‘‘ he shares. Most top chefs are of the opinion that it is one of the better ﬁshes available in India for its slightly sweet and buttery taste. ITC Grand Chola’s executive chef Ajit Bangera adds, “It is undoubtedly a beautiful ﬁsh to work with for its versatility and ease in cooking. It features extensively on our menus — from grilled ﬁsh of the day served with a simple lemon-buttersauce at Ottimo to fish cakes, tempura ﬁsh and blackbean infused sliced ﬁsh stir-fry at Pan Asian.”
Key to fishing
Although the barramundi is found in abundance in the Andaman Sea, lack of knowledge and absence of quality deep sea ﬁshing equipment is hurting the market. “This is where the government should take up proactive measures to educate themselves as well as impart ﬁndings to ﬁshermen and take necessary steps to promote local species,’’ explains Chef Anand, continuing, ‘‘This, when combined with an organised and regulated market sans any price ﬂuctuation, and easy access to storage techniques, is bound to be a winning combination for consumers along the East Coast.”
“Apart from the wild ocean barramundi, the species, being a Catadromous ﬁsh, has a great potential to breed well even in local ﬁshing communities along the East Coast,” says Doctor. Providing a high source of essential Omega 3 fatty acids, better taste and being supportive of the farming community, the barramundi makes a strong case for itself in Chennai and Tamil Nadu. ‘‘The cause can propel further once we as consumers start being curious and effectively lobby for local ﬁsh, similar to the recent ‘forgotten grains and millet’ drive or the methods constantly undertaken by Norway to actively promote their salmon,” he concludes.
Need to know
Completely driven to promote local produce within the hotel and restaurant chef’s community, Bangera further adds, “The various platforms and forums that we as chefs take part in can be used as a stage to actively encourage and educate food handlers. Tasting sessions and campaigns can make a great case for the community to stand united to promote local economy, especially with a superior product like the Indian sea bass or barramundi.”
Pick them right
Prithviraj Manivelu has a few pointers on buying barramundi. “Know your barramundi before you venture into the market, or you may be duped! My tip — pick the whole ﬁsh rather than portions, as that ensures you recognise the variety being sold to you.” Anatomy-wise, the fish has a large head that tapers down signiﬁcantly making its snout very thin; almost resembling a depression on its forehead. With reﬂective blood eyes, its identity is unmistakeable.
— Preeti GT