Friday, August 31, 2012

Two Bengali Fish Curries

We rarely get good river fish in Bangalore; the little there is is cultured and I stay far away from it.  On weekends, we do get hauls from the eastern rivers, but I don't buy them in the monsoon season, which is the spawning time for many of the fish.  Thinking that the season might be over, I took a quick look in the market - and sure enough, there was a heap of tangra (small fish which are marinated in a green chutney and then fried in a besan (gram flour) batter), the usual rohu and katla (larger fish which are now cultivated - generally used for curries), small hilsa (a delicacy but one rarely finds the original, larger sized fish) and more.  I was drawn to the pile of pale pink, smooth skinned pabda - a fish with a delicate texture and flavour that my husband and I love to eat.

So pabda it was, and when I took it home I decided to divide it and make two curries - one with ginger and the other with mustard.  These curries are somewhat different from the usual onion - tomato kind - they have very little oil, almost no solid pastes and relatively large amounts of liquid.  Magically, the tiny bit of oil, the whole spices and the finely ground spice and liquid mixture comes together with the fish to form a delicious curry (which thickens on cooling due to the gelatin from the fish).  The spices are sharp but light enough not to mask the flavour of the fish.  This is the way I like it and the way I learnt it from Daya, our family cook in Kolkata.  In other homes or restaurants one might find heavier or oilier versions of these curries, which are also popular, but not to my taste.

The ingredients cannot be ground in blenders or electric grinders, so I pulled out my trusty grinding stone.  I did the ginger first and then the mustard (which is tricky as it often turns bitter- every cook has their own way and I grind it smooth with green chilly and salt).  The fish was coated in salt and turmeric (as is the Bengali way), then fried in very hot mustard oil.  Finally the curries were assembled - in mustard oil, with a sprinkling of onion seeds for the ginger and fenugreek seeds for the mustard curry.  I added a cup or two of water, a pinch of salt and finally the fish.  This was simmered slowly until the spices melded.  Interestingly, both curries look quite similar but the flavours, of course, are completely different.  The effects as well!  Ginger aids digestion and mustard is heavy on the stomach.

And now, I will have to select one of them for dinner tonight (it will be prudent to have the ginger)!  This will be served with steamed rice and fresh, garlicky spinach.

Fish with mustard

Fish with ginger

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