I wake up to charcoal bruised heavens and the pitter-patter of rain this morning.
It’s not half six yet, but S is already up, sitting in the garden, his mug of coffee on the table, watching listlessly at the smudged horizons.
MS Subbulakshmi plays in the background.
Such a sublime morning, he comments as I walk up to the garden, we are so blessed to wake up to days as these.
I get myself a coffee.
Someone called me yesterday, I narrate to S, she’s working on an article on the unfathomable love we Bengalis have for our fish. And asked me for recommendations of five classic fish dishes.
And since our conversation, I have been thinking, I continue. What would the top five Bengali classic fish dishes in your head ? I ask the man.
Only five? He replies smiling. I can rattle 50 without even a pause for breath.
No. I am happy with just five for now. Try please.
I shall struggle. S confesses. And that’s an understatement.
Don’t think too much, I keep pestering. Just name the first five that comes to mind.
Shorshe Ilish or Bhapa Ilish would be the undisputed winner wouldn’t it ?
I nod in agreement. Who could ever give the pompous Queen any competition at all ?
Golda Chingrir Malaikari.
Yes, can’t contest that one.
Chitol Maacher Muitha.
That’s an apt nomination, I remark, painstakingly laborious one to prepare, but heavenly delicious.
Wow, why didn’t that spring to mind ? Yes, yes, an ageless favourite.
And last but no means the least, Bhetki Maacher Jhal.
Timeless again, you can never ever go wrong with a well-cooked Bhetki Maacher Jhal, can you ?
The morning tiptoes unhurriedly.
When was the last Monday when time stopped still ? I muse.
I finish my notes for the article. Contented with the final five I recommend.
Listen to the melody of the drizzle.
Watch the clouds scribble patterns in the sky.
And by the time I check the time, it’s almost noon.
Lunch is simple and fuss-free.
Piping hot rice.
And some divine Bhetki Maacher Jhal that I just couldn’t resist the temptation to whip up after all that conversation on timeless classics.
Bhetki Maacher Jhal. A quintessential Bengali favourite. Gorgeous Bhetki steaks. The zing of mustard. The fire of chillies. A generous glug of mustard oil, and if you choose, a profusion of chopped coriander leaves. Enjoy !!
By the way, what would feature in your top 5 list when it came to Bengali fish delicacies ?
Bhetki Maacher Jhal
- 5 pieces bhetki fish
- 1/3 cup tomato puree
- 2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 7-8 green chillies slit
- 4 tbsp mustard oil
- salt to taste
- a handful of coriander leaves finely chopped, optional
- Soak the black and yellow mustard seeds in warm water for 15 odd minutes. Drain from water, make a smooth paste with 4-5 green chillies and a pinch of turmeric powder.
- Add 3/4 cup of water to the mustard paste, mix well. Strain the mustard paste and keep the mustard water aside.
- Smear the fish with a little salt and turmeric powder. Heat 2 tbsp oil and shallow fry the fish. Keep aside.
- Add 1 tbsp of oil to the same pan. Throw in the kalonji and remaining green chillies. Allow the spices to splutter.
- Gently add the tomato purée, sprinkle the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and a little salt, give it a good stir and patiently cook over a medium flame till oil starts to separate from the masala.
- Now gently place the fried fish in the curry, pour the mustard water and cook over a low flame, 7-8 minutes or so.
- Finish with a generous drizzle of mustard oil and a good handful of chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot .