Saturday, 11 July 2009

When is a chop not a chop?

So, when is a chop not a chop? When it's a cutlet of course! I am referring to a (rather delicious) anomaly in Indian cooking, that I assume stems from the time of Empire. The Indian chop is not a cut of meat and can often be vegetarian. It is in fact a combo of mashed potatoes mixed with either fish or vegetables and various spices, shaped into patties or chunky sausage shapes, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Oddly enough the alternative name for a chop in India (or at least West Bengal) is a cutlet. I have yet to definitively establish if there is any difference between the two, and in my experience they both seem to be used inter-changeably, though the term chop is always used in my family. The meat version uses mince (keema), but whatever it's made of the Indian chop bares little relation to its British counterpart. I am intrigued about the origins of the use of this term though- were 'British chops' usually cooked coated in breadcrumbs during Empire times? Were the 'Indian chops' once shaped more like a cut of meat? Maybe the term chop meant something else altogether a few hundred years ago? Is this what India got in exchange for introducing Britain to kedgeree? I plan to continue my linguistic food investigations!

Anyway whatever it's origins, macher (fish) chop with dahl and some rice is one of my favourite Bengali meals. I will blog about this at a later date (when I have some more time to make them properly), but in the meantime here's something I came up with the other day. I had some raw prawns in the fridge that really needed to be cooked, and I felt like doing something a bit different than a stir-fry or pasta dish. So instead I prepared a slightly simplied version of a chingri (prawn) chop a.k.a. prawn fishcakes. This included most of the ingredients used in a classic macher chop, but instead of coating them in breadcrumbs I lightly dusted them in plain flour before shallowing frying. To make enough for around four chops (sufficient for one person as a main course or two as a side dish) I used the following:

Around 140g raw prawns, de-veined (do feel free to increase the amount of prawns as I was just using what I had left in the fridge)
1 medium potato, chopped, boiled and then mashed
Couple of large spring onions, or half a regular, medium, white onion
2 medium cloves of garlic
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 green chilli (more if you prefer more heat or include ground chilli)
1 tsp ground corriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp-ish salt
plain flour for dusting
oil for frying

I prepared this using a Kenwood mini-chopper, which is one of my most used kitchen gadgets, but pounding and mixing everything by hand is possible (and of course more authentic!). I first made a paste from the onion, chilli, ginger and garlic, before adding in the prawns. The prawns should maintain a bit of texture rather than being blended to a mush. Take this mixture and add it to the (cooled) mashed potato, add the dry spices, and combine. The prawn mix should be wet enough to hold everything together which is why this recipe doesn't include a binding agent like egg (but you can add some beaten egg if it's too dry). Form the chops into patties, put them onto a plate lightly dusted in plain flour, (to stop them sticking) and refrigerate for about 30mins (the longer the better really, but you can get away with 10-15mins in some circumstances i.e. when hungry). When you're ready to cook them, heat enough oil to shallow fry, dust the chops in plain flour, pat off any excess and put them into the hot oil. They'll probably need about 6-8mins on each side, and should be a rich golden brown when they're done. I ate mine with a large salad, but these chops would also be perfect with rice and dahl.

Coming soon- Bengali macher chop and beetroot chop!


joshua said...
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meemalee said...

I've had these in Burma where they're called "Aloo Catterlick" and for ages I wondered why they were called Catholic Potatoes, until I found out that the second word was just the Burmese pronunciation of "Cutlet" :)

TheFastestIndian said...

Ho ho- so the cutlet has spread as far as Burma then! Actually, I guess not that suprising in light of Empire borders. My investigations will continue!