Bengali Style Dry Fish Curry (Machher Jhal)


 

Fish curry served with steamed rice a.k.a. mach bhath – food that is close to every Bengali’s heart. Fish is an integral part of Bengali cuisine and is cooked and eaten almost every day in every house hold. There are so many varieties of fish cooked in so many different ways – machher jhol (fish cooked in a light thin gravy), sorshe mach (fish cooked with mustard), machher jhal (spicy dry fish curry), doi mach (fish cooked with yogurt) to name a few… I was amazed at the variety of fishes I used to see in the markets of Kolkata.

Bengalis are spoilt with choice when it comes to choosing fish – but they mostly eat fresh water fish (from river/lakes/pond) and not sea fish. Here in Melbourne, we don’t find the fish variety we get in Kolkata. Barramundi is the closest Bong fish, which is Bhetki. I cook this dish with barramundi normally, but this time I wanted to try something different. So I tried sand mullet – a local fish which is widely available. I am so glad I did it as it turned out exceptionally well.

I cook this dish in mustard oil, which is traditionally used in Bengali cooking – however, you may use your regular cooking oil as well. I heated the mustard oil nearly to smoking point. I then reduced the heat and lightly fried the fish pieces. It is very important to heat the pan and oil well before adding the fish – else the fish will stick to the pan. I then sauted onion, ginger, tomatoes with chilli and other spices, and cooked the fish until done. Simple dish with lots of fresh flavours. This dish is traditionally cooked with lot of chillies, but you may adjust the chilli level depending on your preference.

This simple fish curry served with steamed rice is a complete meal in itself. Try it and let me know how you like it.

 

 

Ingredients:

Fish – 1 whole cut into pieces (I used sand mullet)
Onion – 1 large, sliced
Tomato – 1 medium, chopped
Ginger paste – 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp + 1 tbsp to rub on fish
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp or as per taste
Nigella seeds (Kala jeera) – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tbsp
Green chilli – 2-3 or as per taste
Salt – to taste
Mustard oil –  3 tbsp
Coriander leaves for garnish

Method:

  1. Wash the fish pieces. Rub salt and turmeric powder and set aside for 10-15 minutes
  2. Heat a large fry pan. Add mustard oil and let it heat up completely and reach smoking point. Reduce flame and add fish pieces carefully into it (You may use your regular cooking oil as well)
  3. Fry the fish for a minute. Gently flip the fish and fry the other side for another minute – till the sides are sealed. Set aside
  4. In the same pan, add nigella seeds and saute for a few seconds
  5. Add sliced onions and saute until translucent. Add the grated ginger and saute for a minute
  6. Add chopped tomato, green chilli, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cumin powder, salt and mix well. Cook till tomatoes are mushy
  7. Add half cup water and bring to boil
  8. Add the fried fish and mix gently. Cover and cook on low heat till the fish is completely done (about 10-15 minutes)
  9. Remove cover, increase heat and cook till the water dries up. Turn off the heat
  10. Garnish with coriander leaves
  11. Serve hot with steamed rice

Notes:

  • Make sure the pan is hot before adding oil. Then let the oil heat up completely before adding fish. Else the fish will stick to the pan
  • The fish needs to be lightly fried till the sides are sealed – do not fry more else the fish will become hard and rubbery
  • Fry fish pieces in a single layer on the pan in batches. Do not over crowd the pan
  • Traditionally this dish is cooked in mustard oil. If you find it too strong, mix regular and mustard oil together and use
  • You may also use the fish head in the curry if you want to give it a try – however, make sure to fry the head – covered on low-medium heat for a longer time (about 10 minutes)

 

Sand mullet

Sand mullet scaled and gutted

 

Lightly fry fish pieces in oil

Lightly fry fish pieces in oil

 

Saute onion with spices and add tomatoes

Saute onion with spices and add tomatoes

 

Cook tomatoes until mushy

Cook tomatoes until mushy

 

Add fish pieces and simmer until done

Add fish pieces and simmer until done

 

 

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