This is a dish that has been included in traditional Bengali birthday menus, when guests have been over, or as special Sunday lunches or any other occasion that demanded it. Once I started living away from my parents – since 2000 – this was also a MUST each time I visited home.
- Mustard oil is a must as it adds to the flavour of the mustard. However, you can use canola or other vegetable oil.
- Try buying fish with an outer skin – Australian markets usually have skinless-fillets – as the crisp, fried fish skin adds to the flavour. If buying fillets, the thicker the fillet, the better. If you can get a whole, cleaned fish and cut it yourself, you’ll get the perfect pieces. Today we will cook this with fillets; perhaps will show how to cut the fish into ‘traditional’ pieces some other time.
- Rohu (greas carp, Labeas rohita) and hilsa/ilish (Hilsa shad, Tenualosa ilisha) are ideal for this. Since both types are predominant in the Indian subcontinent, I am using any fish with thick fillets; today’s choice are ling (Genypterus spp) skinned fillets.
- For those who cannot tolerate hot food; skip the green chillies completely. Be warned though, it’s not half as much fun without the chilli.
- Marinate the fish in the turmeric-salt mixture before you start preparing the mustard paste; the longer the fish soaks in the mixture, the better it tastes upon frying.
- While frying the fish, remember do NOT poke around with the fish, let it fry in peace. Basically, let one side fry thoroughly and only then turn it over to the other side. Fiddling with the fish when it’s not properly fried will lead to the fish breaking.
- Also mind your hand when frying the fish, the oil really splutters. Keep the oil really hot (keep on high flame). Do NOT chuck fish into the oil as (common sense tells you that) the hot oil will spill all over.
- Use a perforated spoon to pick fish out of oil so that extra oil drains back into the pan/wok.
- Use a different pan/wok to make the curry and not in the same one you’ve used for frying. Once you finish frying the fish and transfer the oil to a clean wok/pan; soak the frying pan/wok in water…it’s tough cleaning when dried out.
- Try not to eat the fried fish. Heh, I’ve done that many times. Also, the fried fish by itself – served with Maggi hot ‘n’ sweet sauce or any spicy chutney that you like – makes for a great party snack. Serve with onion slices sprinkled with lemon juice and some salt.
- Evenly sprinkle 1 TSP turmeric powder, 1 TSP red chilli powder and 1 TSP salt on all the fish fillets (I had eight) and rub them on the fish. Cover and keep aside. ---->
- In a blender, take ½ cup water, four green chillies, ½ TSP salt and all the mustard seeds and grind into a fine paste. (Run motor for 3 minutes or so). The end result should be a fine, frothy paste. Sieve through a muslin cloth/strainer into a bowl, discard the seeds, add ½ cup water to the mustard-paste-juice and keep aside.
- In another small bowl/cup, mix 1 TSP red chilli powder and 1 TSP turmeric powder with 3 TBS water. Keep aside.
4. Heat oil in a deep-bottomed pan/wok on high heat the oil starts to smoke. Reduce the heat and in batches – as many pieces fit into the pan/ wok without overcrowding – fry the fish pieces till each side is browned and crisp. Once all pieces are fried, cover them and keep aside.
- 5. Drain the oil – careful it’s going to be bloody hot – into another pan/wok and keep heat at medium. As the oil starts to smoke – should happen quickly as the oil’s still pretty hot -- add the nigella seeds.
6. As soon as the nigella splutters, add the red chilli-turmeric paste and fry, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.
7. Now add the fried fish pieces, one at a time and let each side of the fish cook for about 1-2 minutes before adding the next piece. The idea is to allow all the pieces to be coated with the chilli-turmeric paste.
8. Once all pieces are coated as above, add the diluted mustard paste along with the thinly sliced green chillies, add another ½ cup water, turn the stove flame to high and bring to a boil.
9. Once the broth boils, reduce heat to low/minimum and simmer till gravy thickens. Do not cover and remember to turn the fish – might be twice-thrice depending on how long it takes to dry out – while the gravy thickens.
10. Serve hot with steamed basmati rice. You could squeeze some lemon juice on it as well. Best eaten with hands and licking your fingers is acceptable etiquette.
Confused about your fishes? Try this…