Bengali style dry fish curry (machher jhal) step-by-step recipe with photos.
About this recipe
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 household. 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 fish I used to see in the markets of Kolkata.
Bengalis are spoilt with choice when it comes to choosing fish - but they mostly eat freshwater 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 that 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 heat the mustard oil nearly to the smoke point. I then reduce 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 saute onion, ginger, tomatoes with chilli and other spices, and cooked the fish until done. A simple dish with lots of fresh flavours. This dish is traditionally cooked with a 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.
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Fish curry step by step instructions
1. Sand mullet scaled and gutted
2. Lightly fry fish pieces in oil
3. Saute onion with spices and add tomatoes
4. Cook tomatoes until mushy
5. Add fish pieces and simmer until done
Dry fish curry
- 1 whole fish cut into pieces (I used sand mullet)
- 1 large onion sliced
- 1 medium tomato chopped
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder to rub on the fish
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder or as per taste
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds kala jeera
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 2-3 green chilli
- Salt to taste
- 3 tablespoon mustard oil
- A few coriander leaves for garnish
- Wash the fish pieces. Rub salt and turmeric powder and set aside for 10-15 minutes
- 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)
- 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
- In the same pan, add nigella seeds and saute for a few seconds
- Add sliced onions and saute until translucent. Add the grated ginger and saute for a minute
- Add chopped tomato, green chilli, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cumin powder, salt and mix well. Cook till tomatoes are mushy
- Add half cup water and bring to boil
- Add the fried fish and mix gently. Cover and cook on low heat till the fish is completely done (about 10-15 minutes)
- Remove cover, increase heat and cook till the water dries up. Turn off the heat
- Garnish with coriander leaves
- Serve hot with steamed rice
- 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 overcrowd 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)