Cheap Eats:
Machee Kabab
 (Fish Kebabs)

In the U.S., we often take abundance for granted. We expect the things we like to be at the store when we appear. However, if fish is among the things you like, you may have noticed lately that certain types are becoming increasingly scarce, or have disappeared altogether. I don't remember the last time I saw turbot, and cod has only recently reemerged. These and other fish have been fished almost to extinction by the giant trawlers of the Japanese and Russian fishing fleets. The massive, fine-meshed nets dragged by the trawlers not only scoop up all fish, young and old, leaving none to reproduce, they also scrape the sea bottom, leaving behind little life of any kind.

Of late, international treaties have begun to control some of this over-fishing of the world's seas, and one can hope that endangered ocean fish varieties will make a full comeback. However, at present, the prognosis is not good. The cod population off the coast of Main has recently declined, and the government is debating even now whether or not they should ban or restrict cod fishing in New England. This would be great for the cod (unless someone else catches them), but could be the end of the 300-year-old New England fishing industry, since it is estimated that at least 75% of the fisheries in the region would be bankrupt by the end of the year.

At one time, fish flourished in these cold, northern waters. Cod in particular was abundant, and it could be again. Alexander Dumas wrote that, "if no accident prevented the hatching of the eggs and if each egg reached maturity, it would take only three years to fill the sea so that you could walk across the Atlantic dry-shod on the backs of cod." It takes a cod several years to reach maturity, but once there, one fish can produce 4.5 million eggs during breeding season. Of course, since the eggs float, easily accessible to hungry predators, there is no likelihood that all will reach maturity, and even once hatched, the long maturation period leaves the young cod at risk. Yet, the fish's prolificacy should make a rebound possible. (You'd think that, with a fish that lays 4.5 million eggs, someone would figure out how to raise them to the point where they could survive on their own. Anyone out there want to volunteer?)

Though there are many tasty fish among the myriad that populate the oceans, cod, popular since the Upper Paleolithic period, is considered by some to be the world's most important saltwater fish. Nice flavor and texture aside, cod historically has been valued because it has the wonderful quality of being easy to preserve. Simply by salting, and even by drying alone, cod could last for years, and could be transported by ship without getting moldy. It was the food that fueled the "Age of Vikings." From the Middle Ages to Colonial America, it was the only fish that many people living inland could obtain. Cod fishing even contributed to the American Revolution, since New England's merchant marine wanted the right to fish unregulated, and in British waters ("fisheries or no peace," stated John Adams).

So next time you are looking at fish in the fresh or frozen sections of your grocer, perhaps you will remember the long history that led to the fish being there. Even if you don't, at least remember to check that the fish was either farm raised or caught and processed by a country that practices responsible fishing practices. Select any nice, firm, white-fleshed fish for this easy Indian recipe. A green salad and some basmati rice would round out the meal nicely.

Machee Kabab
(Fish Kebabs)

1¼ cups yogurt

2 Tbs. flour

2 garlic cloves, put through garlic press

2 tsp. ground coriander seeds

¼ - ½ tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)

½ tsp. garam masala (see Note below)

4 Tbs. lemon juice

1½ lb. firm white fish fillets, cubed

If you are using bamboo skewers (cheap and disposable), soak them in water for half an hour, to keep them from catching fire while fish is being broiled.

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large, shallow bowl or casserole dish (broad, flat bottom is objective here). Stir the fish in gently and set aside to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Set the oven rack about 6-7 inches from broiler, then preheat broiler. Thread fish cubes onto skewers, reserving the marinade. Arrange the skewers on a foil-lined broiler pan or cookie sheet (if you alternate directions, with every other skewer hanging over the opposite pan edge, you can get more skewers on the pan while still being able to reach the end of each skewer when you need to turn it). Broil, occasionally turning and basting with marinade, for 10 to 15 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Discard any unused, uncooked marinade, but serve any that has gathered in the pan along with the fish.

Slide the fish off the skewers onto a serving dish, add salt to taste, and serve at once. Serves 4-6.


I introduced garam masala a while back. You can find a recipe for it along with Chole and Saag in the March 1997 entry.

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