Fish and nuts

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Anchovies or ikan bilis is a very popular snack in South East Asian countries. In fact, it's a very popular pizza topping in the West. Nasi lemak - rice cooked in coconut milk is never complete without a serving of these tiny fried crisp fishies. They are rich in calcium and minerals.

Peanuts and anchovies are a match made in heaven. They're tossed together in a paste made of chillies, garlic, onion and belachan (shrimp paste).  I love the flavour that kaffir lime imparts so that too gets added in. Almost every supermarket in Singapore has packs of these ready to eat snacks. The problem is that they do not last long - they get devoured that fast. Now I've taken to bringing packs of dry anchovies back with me so that I can make it anytime the craving hits.

These fish are also available in Chennai but you may have to pinch off the heads before using them. Not really necessary though. Wash them quickly and drain in a colander.

Once you're done with the cooking, watch how fast they disappear! They can liven up a boring meal and are fantastic with drinks. The best thing is that you can play around with the quantity of fish and nuts. In my family, they like more nuts...


Here's my rendition of the popular bar snack.


Fish and nuts

100 gm dried anchovies
500 gm raw peanuts
8 -10 dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
6 shallots
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp shrimp paste (belachan, optional)
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
Salt
4 tbsp sugar
Oil

Method
Wash the anchovies, drain in a colander.
Spread out for about 10 minutes on kitchen towels.



Heat a cup of oil in a wok, fry the peanuts on medium heat till light gold ( I wait for them to "pop"and then turn the heat to medium.
Remove onto kitchen towels.
Add more oil into the wok, heat oil to medium hot and fry the fish in 4 batches.
Fry the fish till crisp, remove onto kitchen towels and do subsequent batches.



Grind together the chillies, shallots, garlic and prawn paste to a fine paste with a little water.
Clean the wok, fill with 3 tablespoons of fresh oil.



Heat it and fry the ground paste and tamarind paste. Add in the kaffir lime leaves.
When the paste has been well sauteed but not completely dry, add in fried nuts, fish, salt to taste and sugar.



Stir well to combine.
Cool and bottle, store in the fridge.



InterContinental Hotel Mahabalipuram Resort - luxury meets serenity

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It's a magical moonlit night, stars twinkle up in the sky. We stand on a walkway lit by tiny lights, the other end of which is almost invisible in the dimness. There's a gentle breeze and the faint sound of the sea. I close my eyes and will my ears to hear the tinkle of ghungroos, will my nose to catch a whiff of jasmine flowers and imagine a dancer coming out of the shadows... Of course, no such thing happens but the setting is just perfect for such a scenario.

The walkway and landscaped garden

We're at the InterContinental Hotel Mahabalipuram Resort, Chennai on the East Coast Road, a short distance away from the town of Mahabalipuram. The driveway snakes around high fortress-like walls. Alighting at the foyer, we take a minute to take it all in. The resort is built around a quadrangle, metallic sunflowers grow out of a waterscape that lies to one side, a courtyard with a lawn and the pool on the other. All around the quadrangle are the guest rooms. Soft focus lights are the only source of illumination...and the moon, of course.
It must be the resort's proximity to the Shore Temple, the red tiles on the stairs, granite walls and the old world charm of a central courtyard that helps my imagination run wild.

The courtyard and entrances to guest rooms

The walkway traverses the entire length of the resort and we walk across to the other end. It's all quiet with an almost zen-like quality. Just beyond the resort's boundary wall is the Bay of Bengal. If it's tranquillity you're looking for, this is the place to be. We go down the broad stairs, through the landscaped garden and check out the pool, come up another flight of stairs into the lobby and up another to the bar.

The waterscape with sunflowers

Melting Pot is the all day restaurant at ICH, brightly lit and busy. For us, a table has been set up on the platform that surrounds the waterscape. There are a couple of tables that are open to the sky but we have a "roof" over our heads. Good thing too for in the middle of the meal, it started to rain! Chef Ashish who once worked at the Ananda Spa at the Himalayas comes over to talk to us and introduce us to the 7-course tasting menu he has put together.

Ginger Cosmopolitan


Star anise based palate cleanser

The palate cleanser is amber-hued and has the aroma of star anise and a gentle flavour that glides down the throat.

Focaccia with dips

Palate cleansed, we dig into the house made focaccia with chick pea puree and a tomato dip. The bread is warm, the dips are smooth and addictive and they bring us more of it.

Assorted vegetables in sesame sauce

Shadows surround us, it is difficult to see what is in the bowl the amuse-bouche is served in but we're told it's assorted vegetables in sesame sauce. The greens are crisp, but not because they have been fried but blanched. I can taste not only sesame sauce but also something akin to peanut - a beautiful creamy blend of pastes!

Prawn stuffed calamari

There's a delicious prawn stuffed calamari. The prawn paste is moist and perfectly cooked and the freshness of the seafood is pleasurable.

Duck & scallops with cauliflower puree and chips

House smoked duck and scallops are served with a cauliflower puree and cauliflower chips. The duck has a thin layer of fat, which keeps it moist. The scallops are tender and once again, the crisp chips provide textural contrast to the other elements.

Seafood cappuccino

Pea soup or a seafood cappuccino - I'm so glad I opted for the latter. Served warm with foam on top and a Parmesan wafer, it was exquisite. The crustacean flavour shone through and every delicious sip was savoured.

Poached prawn with miso, popcorn and edamame

Orange juice poached prawn with miso had a single prawn, curried popcorn, crisp lotus root slices, shimeji mushrooms and edamame served with a drizzle of miso. This dish was a fine play of textures and flavours, the tang of orange was barely discernible but the savouriness of the miso brought out every nuance of the prawn and vegetables;

Roasted baby sea bass

Pan roasted baby sea bass came with curried cream citrus salad and mango salsa. Served on a stone slab, the sauce, enriched with coconut milk was reminiscent of Kerala's meen moilee. The fish flaked beautifully, the crisp skin was a delight to bite into.

Tenderloin with beet puree, ash potato and togarashi

Tenderloin served with ash potatoes, beetroot puree, more ash and togarashi. I would have liked the meat to have been more tender but every other element on the plate was delicious. The togarashi was spicy, peppering whatever was dipped into it with bits of heat.

Textures of chocolate and banana ice cream

Dessert was all about textures of chocolate and fruits that went best with it. There was white and dark chocolate ganache, strawberries, an orange segment, chocolate crumbs and banana ice cream. Except for the ice cream which I couldn't bring myself to taste, everything else was wickedly delicious.

A meal for two at the Melting Pot would be around 1000/++ per head. On weekends, the buffet charges are 1499/++ for lunch and 1799/++ for dinner. A customised meal like the one we had without alcohol would be around 2500/++. If you like Chef Ashish to work his magic on a similar menu as we did, do have a word with him. With Valentine's day coming up, I cannot think of a more romantic setting.

ICH Mahabalipuram Resort
No. 212 East Coast Road
Nemelli Village, Perur Post Office
Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.
+91 44 71720101



 
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