This is a very typical fish curry, laden with prominent Bengali flavors.
Let me warn you here that this is going to be a LONG post. I did get carried away. To get passionate about cooking I need a trigger; and the memories trigger passion for me, the urge to cook and enjoy and I write about it as I feel that memories make food complete. You can skip all of it and move straight to the recipe if you wish to. The recipe is simple and not requiring many ingredients. The key here are the spices and they are not the very unusual ones.
The styling of this photo was inspired by another photograph I had come across long time back. I could not find the creator of the photograph. However it is listed here in this Page. I am still looking for the photographer and when I find I will update the post/credit.
I was going over the last few posts and I realized that I posted a lot of Bengali recipes in a row, which I have never done before. It definitely was not intentional, but since I post what I cook, you can see a trend in what we have been eating.
Being the only Bong in the house, it is not very often that I follow the traditional sit down several course meal. It is not something which I like to do when I am alone. But I have my dad with me now and we have been eating quite elaborate lunches, which I rarely do. This is something he misses out on staying all by himself back in India. He is not fond of fish at all, but I grabbed the chance of his company and made me some
This recipe today is simple and every day kind of recipe. But what I remember every single time I make this are the special occasions at home – wedding and many more of the kind. Mind it, this dish is never ever served for the wedding feast.
I need to talk more about the tradition of big occasions back home here. The family comes together long before the actual day – whatever kind the festivity might be. The few days before the final day, the activities peaks, and so does family and close friends. That calls for catering food (in recent times) or having the entire yard getting prepared for a full time team of cooks, the largest utensils and the unbelievable spread of paraphernalia.
The house teems with people and it could be close to a 100 or even more, depending how big a family you have. The women of the house who are otherwise usually in charge of the kitchen have other business to do – time for them to get busy shopping, holding all acts together and also decorating themselves.
The food during this time period is not fancy. It is the everyday sort of food, soothing and comforting but served in mass scale. Believe me, the entire atmosphere, the hustle and bustle and the mere enormity of it changes the taste of the food. I know it is a psychological thing, but it is true. There is a different charm to sit down in a line with the youngsters all together, then the men, and the older generation and the women all in groups, devouring hungrily and joyfully what is being served in buckets by very enthusiastic volunteers from the family. The mood is generally peaked and happy tending towards being boisterous- or it may seem that way! Sometimes some tense argument would be heard from a corner which would quickly resolve and end in full throated laughter. The children are laughing and joking and playing pranks. It is busy insanity, but a good kind.
While I was growing up, food during this time was served on either banana leaves or a different kind of plate with leaves woven together – all disposable and biodegradable! The aroma of the slightly scalded banana leaves when the hot steaming food hits it holds its magic and adds to the inexplicable, and subtle satisfaction.
Banana leaf plates. Last summer when we were in India, we were invited for a “feast” and thank God for the small town charm of my home, these traditions are still not yet lost. My girls experienced this kind of get together for the very first time.
Along with the other things like Bhaja Muger Dal, Beguni, Dhoka, Bandhakopir Torkaari, and sweet Bengali Chutney and more, would be this fish curry. The funny part is when made in a mass scale like this, there was a very different way to serve it. First came the fish pieces/steaks (mind it no sauce or gravy here) then following this server was another who had the sauce in the bucket! So first the fish was placed on the plate and then the gravy was ladled over on the rice. Even though it might be the same dish, this is never how we have it at home. I remember as a child that I would sometimes ask for the sauce and sometimes refuse it, and just be happy with the fish.
The trick here is to cook the fish in the sauce and then separate them. Why it is done that way, I do not know. If any one does, please let me know for I have always wondered and still do.
It saddens me that all these are dying traditions now, getting lost amidst globalization. These days probably pasta and feta cheese are served for meals It is us who are staying away from home, who remembers these times and misses them most. The present generation back home, never experienced it and it is probably just a story to them as it is to my girls.
I know very well that it is not easy to relate to these feelings for those who have never known what it is like. For me however these memories are tucked in a precious place where I often reach out and re-live.
Kalo Jeere Diye Maach: Fish Curry in Nigella Flavored Spicy Sauce
- 6-8 steaks of firm fish steaks (I have used carp/rohu )
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon turmeric
- oil to deep fry the fish steaks
For the sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon nigella/kalo jeera/kalonji
- 5- 8 hot green chili pepper – like Thai-bird, slit (if you do not like the spicy, remove membrane and the seeds. The aroma of the hot peppers are vital here, so please do not cringe on these)
- salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 inch fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3-4 tablespoon mustard oil (sub. with any other oil, if needed, but you will be missing out on a major share of the flavor)
- 2 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander powder
Using bone in fish steak is recommended. The recipe is always made with fresh water fish (not salt water/sea fish), typically like Rohu/Carp. If this kind is not available, substitute with fish of your choice.
Remove scales (if it is not already done) and wash fish steaks until the water runs clear. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and turmeric powder on the fishes and toss well for the salt and turmeric to coat fish really well. Allow it to sit for about 15 minutes.
Heat oil in a wok/kadai. The oil should be smoking hot. Carefully place steaks one by one in the hot oil in a single layer (very very important). The oil should be deep enough to cover the fishes and if the pan/kadai/wok cannot hold all the steaks the first time, deep fry them in batches. Once the lower side is golden brown, flip it over (Do not force it. The steaks will release themselves when done and will flip over easily. If they do not, wait! that means they are not done yet). Repeat the same process with the other side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
To make the sauce:
Make a paste with ginger and the cumin (using a mortar and pestle will do and you will not need to use any extra water. The water from fresh ginger should be enough. If you do need extra, use in small splashes).
Heat the mustard oil (or any other oil you are using) in a pan/wok. When smoking hot, add the slit green chili peppers and nigella seeds. Allow the seeds to sizzle, and it will happen pretty quickly. The hot peppers will turn brownish too. Add the ginger cumin paste and stir it until aromatic, less than a minute.
In a bowl take 2 cups of water (or more if you want it soupy). Add coriander powder, turmeric, chili powder and salt. Stir it well for it to combine. Pour carefully into the pan. Bring the spiced liquid to a boil and cook for about 3-5 minutes. Place the fried fish steaks in a single layer, lower the heat to medium and simmer for about 10-12 minutes.
Switch off the heat; cover and allow it to sit until ready to serve.
You may garnish with fresh cilantro when ready to serve.
Serve with steaming hot rice (the traditional way) or with bread if you wish.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 20- 30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Serves: 4-6 as a side