How to Cook Lemon Rice and Fried Fish
Lemon rice is a simple and versatile dish in Southern India, specifically in the region of Tamilnadu (which is where I am from). People often bring it to picnics or on trips because it keeps well outside of the fridge—and because it tastes good cold, as well as hot.
In a stroke of genius, my mother paired lemon rice with another classic South Indian delicacy: fried fish. The spicy, crispy fish with its tender meat is an excellent complement to the slightly sour lemon rice, and you can customize with garnishes and other side dishes if you wish.
This recipe is my mother's original recipe. Oftentimes, we make a large amount of this dish and box it up to sell on Fridays at our local mosque. There is such demand for this dish that people hurry to buy it, and it always sells out.
Try it at home and taste it for yourself!
For the rice:
- 5 rice cups white basmati rice, cooked (1 rice cup = approximately 3/4 standard U.S. cup)
- 2-3 limes, juiced
- Real-Lemon Concentrate juice (use same amount as the real lime juice)
- 1 tablespoon cumin powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 small handful urad daal (split and dehusked black gram0
- 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 5-6 curry leaves
- 11-12 dried red chili peppers
- Canola/vegetable oil
For the fish:
- 4 pounds tilapia fish filets
- Canola/vegetable oil, for frying (enough for 2-2.5 inches in the pan)
- 3-4 tablespoons garlic-ginger paste
- 2-3 tablespoons (depending on how spicy you want it) chili powder
- Salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Sliced onions, limes, chopped cilantro (optional garnishes)
- Prepare the fish by defrosting it if frozen. Then cut it into the size that you like and wash the pieces. Drain for at least 1 hour before applying the masala (spices).
- Mix the cut fish (by hand is best, but make sure to wash thoroughly after or it will burn) with the garlic-ginger paste, chili powder, salt, and turmeric powder until well combined. Marinate for at least 1 hour. Preferably, do this before you begin the lemon rice so it can marinate while you cook the rice.
- Prepare the rice: Cook the rice as you would normally (make sure to salt the rice). Then, spread the rice out onto a pan and let it cool down. Break it up from the cakey shape it was in from the rice cooker.
- Mix the lime juice with the Real Lemon Juice Concentrate and set aside.
- Add the oil to a pan, followed by the urad daal, curry leaves, and mustard seeds. Let the mustard seeds pop in the oil (you will hear the popping and it is wise to wear oven mitts because the oil is hot).
- Add the cumin, turmeric powder, and a small amount of salt. Stir the oil-spice mixture in the pan. Make sure not to burn the mixture; it will cook very fast. Be careful.
- Once the spices are mixed, pour in the mixture of lime juice and Real Lemon Juice Concentrate. Make sure to be careful here because there may be spray (since you’re mixing cold liquid and hot oil).
- Let this mixture boil visibly for a couple of minutes; it should look yellow-orange in color. DO NOT BURN IT! This is a critical step, and if it is burnt it will look black or brown, and you will have to throw it out.
- Once the mixture is off the stove, pour it all over the cooled white rice. Mix the liquid mixture into the rice (you can do this by hand or with a spatula). Mix it well and leave no lumps or clumps of white rice or concentrated areas of the spice mixture. Once this is done, leave it to cool while you tend to the fish.
- Next, pour a good 2 to 2.5 inches of oil into a pan that is deep enough to shallow-fry the fish. This is not “searing” the fish; it has to be enough to submerge the fish in the oil. Heat it up until it looks visibly hot.
- Drop the fish in carefully by hand or with tongs and turn them over as they cook. For the first batch, it will probably take 7-8 minutes to cook. The fish should look brown and crispy, but not black, and it will look white and flakey on the inside. The second/third batches should take about 5-6 minutes. Make sure to keep turning the fish so all sides are cooked evenly.
- It is better to serve the fish and rice immediately after the fish is cooked because this fish is best eaten fresh and not later. You may garnish the fish with slices of onion, chopped cilantro, and squeeze some lime on top if you wish, but it is not necessary. Enjoy!
Here are some suggestions to customize and elevate this dish:
- You can add peanuts to the rice, with the skin shelled off and dry-roasted in a pan for some flavor and crunch.
- You may wish to add a teaspoon of garam masala to the fish spices when marinating for some extra flavor.
- Try eating this dish with some fresh chunks of coconut. The sweet will counteract the spicy fish and the sour rice.
Don't be afraid to experiment! Make it your own. I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it—it really is tasty. Thanks for reading!