I love that every region of India has its own, distinct way of cooking fish! Coastal regions in the South & West are known for seafood cooked in coconut curries, both mild and fiery. Up North, one can relish spicy fish tikkas and the Punjabi-style fish curry that has a tomato-onion base. And in the East, (Bengal & Orissa), you’ll find that people are partial to sweeter, freshwater fish, often cooked in a mustard curry.
This particular Machher Jhol recipe was shared with me by a Bengali friend and is made with the delicate, freshwater Pabda fish. It uses freshly-ground mustard and green chilies as the main flavour elements, both of which can pack a punch! The mustard is both bitter and pungent, while the green chilies provide a fresh, sharp heat. Using them in just the right quantities is crucial to getting this curry right. So is adding a tiny bit of jaggery at the end to balance all the strong flavors.
Recipe: Machher Jhol
- A Kadai / Karahi / a deep bottomed pan with handles on either side
- A Mixer / Spice Grinder
- A sieve
- 500 gms Pabda Fish [Alternate: Any white freshwater fish]
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp chilli powder [optional]
- 3 tsps Whole Black Mustard Seeds
- 6 Green Chilies
- Salt [to taste]
- 5 tsps Mustard Oil
- 2 medium- sized Onions
- ⅓ tsp Nigella Seeds
- ¼ tsp Turmeric powder
- Grind 3 tsps of mustard seeds, 3 green chilies and a pinch of salt with ⅓rd cup of water to a smooth paste
- Pass the paste through a sieve to remove the mustard skins and any grainy bits
- Chop half an onion (as fine as possible) and grind the remaining 1½ onions to a smooth paste
- Wash and pat-dry the fish; marinate with salt, chili powder1 (optional) and turmeric and set aside to rest
- Heat mustard-oil in a Kadai until it begins to smoke2. Add the nigella seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 30 seconds
- Add the chopped onion and sauté till translucent
- Next add the onion paste and sauté until all the moisture dries out and the raw taste dissipates
- Add a quarter tsp of turmeric powder and sauté for a minute
- Add 3 cups of warm water and stir well until you have a homogenous gravy. Next, add the marinated fish to the pan. Top with 3 slit green chilies3; cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 6 minutes.
- Now add the strained mustard paste and use the handles of the kadai to swirl the curry around. You do not want to use a spoon to stir, or you might end up breaking the fish
- Add half a tsp of jaggery, swirl again and allow to simmer for a final 2 minutes4
- Serve hot with freshly-steamed rice and enjoy!
1Marianting the fish with just salt and turmeric is adequate and what the original recipe calls for. You can add chili powder if you want a little more heat on the fish itself.
2Mustard oil has a unique and strong flavor; it is essential to the flavor of this dish, but can substitute a more neutral-flavored cooking oil if you so prefer
3If you want a little less heat in the dish, you can cut just the tops off the chilies and avoid slitting them. This will ensure your curry has a green chili flavor without as much of the heat.
4Pabda is a particularly delicate fish that cooks in 6 -7 minutes; any longer and it the flesh will turn to mush. If using an alternate fish, adjust the cooking time accordingly. I’ve also used whole fish here because my family is accustomed to this; please use de-boned fish pieces / slices if you aren’t comfortable with having fish bones in your plate.
This curry is relatively easy to make and particularly good when you need some warmth on a cold/ rainy evening. Let me know in the comments below if you give this recipe a shot or have a question🖖