How long do you think a Bong can be without fish? Not long. With tens of rivers crisscrossing the state and the huge Bay of Bengal in South Bongs have a special knack for fish. Fish is not only a part of the Bengali cuisine, but it’s a part of Bengali rituals, customs; a part of the Bengali life.
Fish is considered as a good omen and so in every Bengali wedding a big whole rui or rohu is sent to the bride’s house from the groom’s as a token of bonding between the two families. Offering ilish (hilsa) to goddess Saraswati has been an age old custom.
There are hundreds of different types of fish that you’ll get in the markets, and more are the varieties of the way these fishes are cooked. To broadly classify the way of cooking fish is a hard task. First, to mention is the daily cooked patla macher jhol. This is the style of cooking preferably the fresh catch, with very little spices and green chilies, garnished with cilantro. Next comes the more rich and spicier version – the jhal jhol and kaliya. Seasoned with onions, garlic and ginger, kaliya are mainly meant for the occasional treats. A slight diversion from the spicy fish preparation is fish cooked in mustard gravy. While preparing hilsa this is the most well known technique, but there are smaller fishes like bata, parshe, fyasha and pabda which taste divine is a thick mustard gravy.
There are numerous other ways of cooking fish that are prevalent among Bongs. And, when talking about fish and its way of preparation the simple fish fry is a class apart. I remember back in my school days, Sunday was my fish fry day. My mom used to save a piece of deep fried fish for me to gorge on to while watching Alice in Wonderland on Doordarshan.
Bata (Labeo bata ) fish is one of the most common small fishes growing in ponds and rivers of Bengal, its is of the same genus as the much more famous rohu (Labeo rohita), and so its tastes quite similar. You can prepare it in a non spicy gravy with just nigella and green chilies, seasoned with turmeric, cumin and salt or make this richer version in mustard gravy.
Bata Mach Sarse Diye
- 8 whole Bata fish
- 3 tablespoon mustard paste
- 1 teaspoon nigella
- 2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder
- 4-5 green chilies, slit lengthwise
- Few sprigs of coriander for garnish (optional)
- 2 tablespoon mustard oil, extra for frying
- Salt to taste
- Clean the fish very carefully, coat generously with 1½ teaspoon turmeric powder and salt.
- Heat about 3-4 tablespoon oil in a wok and fry the fishes in batches till they harden a little, dont over fry the fishes
- In a small bowl add turmeric, chili powder and salt; mix and add the mustard paste
- Throw away the excess oil from frying, clean the wok and heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok. Add the nigella, as they start sputtering pour in the spices paste. As the spices start to dry out add about a cup of water, and the green chilies. Cook for 5-7 minutes till the gravy thickens
- Carefully place the fried fishes in the gravy and cook for another 23 minutes, the fish will become tender
- Take out of the heat, garnish with coriander if using and serve with warm white rice.
How to make mustard paste?
Most of you who are away from Bengal will probably have a hard time preparing mustard paste. The traditional mustard paste in sheel nora has almost become a folk lore now. Here’s how I do it. You can get mustard seeds in Amazon or your nearby Indian grocery store. All you need to have is a coffee grinder, which you’ll get in Amazon or other big retailers for $14-20. Take about 3-4 tablespoon of mustard seeds or till the spice level and grind to fine powder. Mix this mustard powder with water, turmeric and salt and your mustard paste will be ready in less than a minute.
Hot Tips – Heat the oil to smoking hot before frying the fish, low heated oil makes the fish skin to come out. If you are still unsure, then add a little flour to the fish before frying. And, the trick to have a perfect fish fry is not disturb the fish until one side is fully done. Once the fish is fully fried on one side, it will itself leave the bottom of the wok, and you can easily turn it around.
Some people suffer from indigestion after having mustard, the best way to avoid that is avoid the black mustard.