This light and sophisticated dish created by Aktar is a godsend for anyone faced with the dilemma of trying to entertain guests while keeping to any kind of diet or sensible eating pledge.
It’s low on fat and calories but full of flavour thanks to the rich fragrant broth with its warming notes of coriander, turmeric, chilli and mustard seeds.
Even if you’re not watching your waistline, it’s still good to know you’re leaving a little extra room for a more indulgent dessert or cheese course.
Since opening Lasan in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter 11 years ago, Aktar and business partner Jabbar Khan have made it their mission to wean customers away from the usual curry house favourites by presenting lighter, more inventive dishes using lesser known ingredients and techniques from the Indian sub-continent.
Aktar says: “When we first started, we had to keep a separate menu of the classic curries that people knew and expected whilst introducing our own style of cooking. Even so, we had people walking out because they thought they could get a Balti simply because they were in Birmingham. Now people know what to expect and so they’re willing to come along on the journey.”
This dish, Aktar’s interpretation of a traditional West Bengali fish curry cooked by fishermen on their boats, is the perfect combination of authentic, hearty cooking and elegant presentation. So get cooking.
Cod loin on sauteed greens with Bengali fish broth (Serves 4)
You will need
4 x 150g cod loin fillets, skinned
Crushed chilli flakes
Broccoli, sugar snap and spinach: Approx 30/40g per person
For the broth
300g fish heads
2 Medium sized onions finely sliced
2 Green chillies (whole)
6 cloves of garlic (crushed)
6 Very ripe tomatoes (chopped)
Stalks from one bunch of coriander (chopped coarsely)
Generous handful of fresh curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp olive oil (approx)
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1.5l boiling water
For the broth
Ask the fishmonger to scale and remove the gills from the fish heads. Wash the fish and rub with generous amount of salt and wash again until water is clear.
Heat the oil in a medium size pan, add mustard seeds until they pop.
Add the curry leaves and toss in the oil followed by the garlic, onions and whole green chilli.
Add salt, reduce heat and cook until onions soften.
Add the ground spices in order as follows: Turmeric, coriander then chilli.
Add the tomato puree and allow the spices to cook out.
Add the fish heads and stir to coat in the spices.
Add the tomatoes and chopped coriander stalks.
Pour in the boiling water, cover and bring to a fast boil for 5-10 minutes then reduce to a moderate heat and simmer for 45 minutes
Strain through a fine sieve into a clean pan, pressing down on the fish with a spoon or back of a ladle to ensure that all the juices run through into your broth.
For the fish
Lightly sprinkle the cod with coriander, chilli flakes, salt and lime juice.
Wrap each fillet tightly in three layers of cling film (see tips). Roll the cling film around the fish to create a thick sausage shape, twist both ends and tie tightly with string, trimming off any excess cling film.
Poach for approximately 15 minutes at no higher than 45 - 50°C, in other words before the surface of water has even broken into a simmer. You will just see small bubbles at the bottom of the pan. Aktar says that you should maintain the water at this temperature and if you can’t turn the heat down low enough, use a heat diffuser or take the pan off the heat and keep the fish in the poaching water. If the temperature drops below 45°C just return the pan to the heat briefly to bring the temperature back up (see tips).
The water should not boil as it ruins the texture of the fish (see tips).
For the vegetables
Cut the broccoli into bite-sized portions
Heat a wok and add garlic oil swiftly followed by the greens. If using spinach, add it at the last minute so that it’s just wilted.
Place 30/40g of vegetables in the middle of a large dipped bowl, pour in a ladle of the broth and rest the cod loin on top.
Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with steamed basmati.
Bring your fish to room temperature for about half an hour before cooking
When laying out your cling film for the fish parcels, wipe the worktop with a clean damp cloth before placing the cling film on it. This makes it much easier to work with and stops it wrapping itself around your fingers. Wipe a dry cloth over each layer of cling film to remove the air bubbles to help the cling film layers stick together, creating a strong waterproof casing for the fish.
You can prepare the fish in advance and keep refrigerated in the cling film parcels until half an hour before you’re going to cook them. However, if doing this don’t use the lime juice on the fish in advance as it will begin to cure the fish inside the parcel. Squeeze it on after it’s cooked.
To save time on the sous vide method, you could buy unskinned fillets, sear them in a pan with a little oil, skin side down, and then finish off in the oven for a few minutes. This gives the fish a different texture but is just as tasty.
If you can’t get fish heads, then use a good fresh fish stock (500ml) plus one litre of boiling water.
Lasan 0121 212 3664, www.lasan.co.uk
Fiesta Del Asado, Birmingham. 0121 455 9331, www.fiestadelasado.co.uk
* Have a go at this recipe and tweet pictures of your finished dish to @birminghampost
Kitchen Confidential with Aktar Islam
What’s your first food memory?
I’m going to get in trouble from the off for admitting this. I was one of five brothers and as there was no girl to take on the role of mum’s helper (sorry, but that’s how it was back then!) I became the one who helped with the cooking and shopping.
Eventually, by the age of 10, I would be left in charge of cooking for my brothers when my mum went to stay with relatives for the weekend. We’d wait until she’d gone and then we would buy sausages and bacon which were obviously never allowed in the house.
It’s something about the smell of them cooking that’s hard to resist. Talking of food aromas, another memory is of an auntie who lived a few roads down from us. She used to cure and air dry her own fish by pegging it out on the washing line.
There would be several fish all hanging in a row and if the wind was blowing in the right direction you didn’t have to see them to know they were there.
Who taught you to cook?
As above, my mum. Then later from the age of about 13 I went to work in my dad’s restaurant which is a traditional Indian restaurant in Solihull. I started as a general dogsbody and by the age of 19 I was a dab hand with all the dishes on the menu but I had itchy feet and felt that there was something more than the traditional curry house fare.
The real turning point for me was when I went to work in London for a company called Quod. The three directors, Albert, Pascal and Nigel, were brilliant because they indulged me and let me experiment with recipes.
In the end, because they’d heard me whinge about Indian restaurant food so often they encouraged me to follow my heart and said “just go and do it”. So it was back to Solihull and my dad’s restaurant where I started trying to wean people off the thick sauce curries and introduce lighter dishes, more like home cooking. Lasan followed in 2002.
Favourite TV dinner?
You can’t beat a biryani with the boys, it’s the ultimate comfort food and a really easy one pot dish. Every so often I’ll have the lads round to watch some stand-up comedy and I’ll make a huge vat of it. In the winter, we’ll have a sausage night when it’s bangers and mash (sorry mum!).
Favourite food to eat?
I love all types of food. My mum’s cooking is always so full of flavour – one particularly memorable dish was lamb’s brain which she cooked with garlic, caramelised onion, fenugreek, star anise and a little turmeric and served with some homemade rustic wholemeal bread, a little bit like a roti but thicker. It had the most amazing texture , really rich in the mouth.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Professionally speaking, apart from my former employers at Quod, I would say that like most chefs my age, the two chefs we all looked up and whose standards we aspired to were Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay.
Getting to know Gordon through The F Word (Lasan was named Best Local Restaurant in 2010) was a pleasure. He’s a brilliant chef and he’s been really supportive of me personally.
What’s your pet hate in the kitchen?
Chefs that over-handle and mess about with the food. If you’re plating up, just get in there, do what you’ve got to do and get out!
Apart from a knife, what’s your go to gadget?
A big traditional mortar and pestle.
Most memorable meals?
When it comes to Christmas I cook all the chefs and their families a meal – that’s not one meal for everyone, it’s more like a marathon of meals that takes all day and I end up joining in several of them.
The most memorable was on Christmas Day 2008 when I cooked 13 legs of lamb. I started by marinating them all in Indian spices on Christmas Eve and then got up to start cooking at 6am. It was like a military exercise with the first leg of lamb ready for delivery at 10am and the last at 4pm.
After that it was back to mine with a party for all my friends and family that lasted until the early hours.
We’ve had Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Ant and Dec, Jimi Mistry and the Top Gear crew are regulars whenever they’re in Birmingham. Our most hands on customer was Michael Buble who wanted a cookery lesson in the Lasan kitchen.