Although our main source of sustenance came from Amma’s back garden (which contained every vegetable imaginable) – canned foods like baked beans and tin fish (pilchards in tomato sauce) were also staples in our monthly shopping. Amma favoured having at least four or five cans of each for what she called ‘rainy days’. Amma had one method for cooking baked beans – we usually ate baked beans for lunch on Saturdays after a trip to the local town where we shopped. We would have fresh bread, sausages and baked beans braised with green chillies and onions. Amma had four methods of cooking tin fish. The first was braised tin fish-my favourite. Amma made the yummiest braised tin fish samoosas and whenever we made a trip to Durban she would make braised tin fish sandwiches for our stop along the way- at a place which my younger sister and I referred to as ‘the table and chairs’. The second method (my sister’s favourite) was tin fish in gravy with peas and potato wedges. The third method was tin fish chutney which Amma made whenever she cooked yellow cabbage dumplings. The fourth method was this recipe- Tin Fish Biryani.
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Amma’s Tin Fish Biryani
Tin Fish Biryani was one of Amma’s specialities. Since none of my cousins (Amma’s family) had ever heard of Tin Fish Biryani -while growing up I assumed it was something only we ate- but judging by the many requests for this recipe from readers of this blog I now know that this was not the case. Tin Fish Biryani in our home was Amma’s method of creating something special out of an ordinary can of pilchards. Unlike Chicken or Mutton Biryani , Amma’s Tin Fish Biryani was cooked using a one-pot method rather than baked in the oven. Other variations from traditional Biryani are the addition of boiled eggs rather than roasted potatoes and the use of thyme instead of coriander. The latter was mostly because we had a large thyme plant in our back garden which seemed to be fruitful all year round unlike Amma’s dhania patch which took quite a beating in the frosty winter months.
Ingredients for Making Tin Fish Biryani
Instead of using ‘Biryani Mix’ I have used cardamom, star annaise, cinnamon, bay leaves and mustard seeds -which seem to compliment fish quite well. Conventional Biryani mix usually contains all of the ingredients mentioned with the exception of mustard seeds and but also contains fennel seeds. To make your own briyani mix simply combine these ingredients. For this recipe I have kept the spices whole but for Chicken and Mutton Biryani I prefer to grind the spice into a powder.
For this recipe I have used approx. 1.5 cups (90g) rice for a 150g tin fish. The result was a fairly moist biryani which could even be eaten without any dahl. To make larger quantities you can use up to 3 cups rice, for every 280g can of tin fish. This recipe also features a my new method for making ‘heart-friendly’ Indian food…i.e. cooking with minimal oil…for this recipe I have used 1 tablespoon olive oil. Similarly you can use one tablespoon vegetable oil or a levelled tablespoon ghee. In order to get the optimum results from the use of less oil prepare as instructed in this recipe. If you braise the spices with the onion like you would in a normal curry the spices become dry and clumpy- it is best in this instance to cook the spices in the tomato.
- basmati or long-grain rice (to be pre-cooked)
- Tin Fish (canned pilchards in tomato sauce)
- medium-sized onion
- Durban masala
- chilli powder of your choice
- ´turmeric powder
- biryani dhal (black lentils)
- peas or other vegetables of your choice
- olive oil or vegetable oil or 1 level tablespoon of ghee
- fresh or canned tomatoes
- Biryani mix
- sprigs of thyme
- boiled eggs
How to Make Tin Fish Biryani Step by Step
2. Chop the onions fine. Heat a heavy based pot on medium heat. Add the oil. Add the chopped onion. Add the briyani spices i.e. cardamom, star annaise, bay leaves, cinnamon and mustard seeds. Cover then allow to simmer until the onions softened.
3. Add the tomatoes. If you are using fresh tomatoes prepare them as instructed in the How to cook Chutney Recipe i.e soak in hot water then remove the peel then grate the tomatoes.
4. Add the powdered spices i.e garam masala, tumeric and chilli powder. Mix. Add the thyme. Cover and allow to simmer.
5. Add the Biryani dhal and peas or any other vegetables of your choice. Add 125ml water. Add salt. Stir then cover and allow to simmer while you prepare the Tin Fish. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes then add the cleaned Tin fish.
6. Add the rice then add another 60ml water over the rice. Cover and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes until the water has evaporated. Gently fold the rice to combine with the Tin Fish sauce.
5.Top with boiled eggs and sprigs of thyme. Tin Fish Biryani is served best with braised Dhal.