Having lived in New Zealand for over nine years, the only fish roe I had come across was Caviar – or what I like to call, ‘those yummy orange balls’. I was lucky enough to work at a high-end catering company which meant that every so often I’d get my hands on some of this delicacy while hiding behind one of the serving counters towards the end of the function.
What I hadn’t heard about was Gharab.
Doesn’t sound as appealing as ‘Caviar’ does it? Turns out, Gharab is Gujarati for fish roe, except that in India this refers to roe you find in a Bhing – also known as Hilsa or Herring – fish. Gharab can also less commonly refer to the roe found in the Boi or mullet fish too.
Anyways, once people found out I cooked Parsi food for a living I was beseeched with requests for making this age old delicacy called, Gharab nu Achaar. The name is pretty self explanatory in that this is a pickle made with fish roe, spices and the classic Navsari sugar-cane vinegar you will find in every Parsi household. There’s something about making pickles though that really scares me and so despite the requests I stayed far away from trying this one out, opting instead to simply fry my Gharab in some masala like my Ma-in-Law taught me.
Some time back however, my Bengali business buddy, Bonny (I couldn’t resist the alliteration) ordered some Hilsa at her home which came along with some giant Gharab. I was visiting her home the next day and she decided that today we’d conquer the Gharab nu Achaar. The original recipe we used was Thrity Aunty’s one that has been published on Zoroastrians.net and then we made a few tweaks to it like substituting the oil and adding mustard powder for added flavour.
While this pickle will happily stay in your fridge for a couple of weeks atleast, it is so tasty I doubt it will last in your home for more than two days (ours didn’t). While this pickle goes well with Dhandar, if you’re a true blue Parsi you can even have it with anything boring like vegetables of any kind for example.
Thrity's Gharab nu Achaar
- 1 Big Fish Roe (Gharab) of Bhing/Hilsa/Giant Herring Fish. You can replace this with more pieces of the Boi Gharab, which is mullet
- 2 whole pods of garlic, sliced fine
- 4 tbsp kashmiri chili powder (this is usually less spicier than normal chilli powder)
- 3 tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 piece of cinnamon
- 0.5 cup Kolah's sugarcane vinegar (can be replaced with balsamic vinegar if unavailable)
- 0.75 cup mustard oil (can replace with normal oil if unavailable)
- 4 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp dry mustard powder
- 1 tsp salt or more as per taste
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp oil
- 0.5 tsp turmeric powder
- 5 cloves of garlic chopped
- 1 tsp vinegar
- 1 pinch of salt
To Prepare the Fish Roe
- Clean the fish roe (Gharab) well, removing the blood from the veins.
- In a small frying pan, take the 1/4 cup oil and shallow fry the whole fish roe - you will only need about a couple of minutes on each side as you will cook the gharab further later - this is only to seal in the flavour.
- In a separate pan, bring the water to a boil. Add in the turmeric, garlic, vinegar and salt. Slip in the fish roe and let it cook on a slow flame on one side. Turn gently and cook the other side until nice and firm.
- Remove from the water and put it on a sieve to drain. After it cools, cut into slices of desired thickness.
For the Pickle
- Heat the mustard oil to smoking point in a pan. Lower the flame and stir in the garlic - do not let it brown.
- Add in the chilli, turmeric, mustard and cumin powders and stir. Do not let the masala burn - if necessary take the pan off the heat briefly.
- Add in the salt, cinnamon and gharab.
- Once you add the Gharab, continue to stir gently on slow flame till the liquid dries up. Add vinegar and stir.
- Remove from flame and allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the cinnamon
- Store in the refrigerator, preferably in a glass container. Enjoy a slice with every meal.