This is the story of a heady romance between fragrant rice and smashed fish head. (Smashed fish head, yes, you heard it right)
The outcome, the quintessentially Bengali Murighonto, rustic and unpretentious, yet comforting and exotic.
So this is the Bengali version of the fish-head biriyani ? I can hear you question.
No, frown the food historians, the origins of this humble dish go back far beyond the Islamic invasions that introduced us to the Biriyani. Possibly started as comfort food for sailors around the bustling eastern ports of Bengal and Orissa, local fragrant rice cooked with the leftovers of fish, the head and the tail, in a fish stock flavoured with ginger, turmeric and bay leaves.
Commerce and conquests facilitated the evolution of the dish and carried it inland – Muslim traders included onion and garlic, the royal courts of Orissa refined the dish, adding a tempering of ghee and the perfume of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, the Europeans introduced the tomato and Wajid Ali Shah’s successors possibly inspired the potatoes.
And thus we have the murighonto in its delectable current form that we so much love and relish today, yet another of our iconic dishes shaped by heterogeneous diverse influences over centuries.
For those of you, gastronomads as me, never unwilling to let go of a dish without at the least a try, murighonto is a must to savour – try my recipe on one of those Sunday mornings when you are yearning for something novel and I am sure you shall not be disappointed !!!
Murighonto (Fragrant Rice and Fish Head)
- 1 Fish head of Rohu or Katla cut into mid-sizes pieces (I use the head of a ~ 3kg Katla here)
- 1/2 cup gobindobhog rice washed and drained
- 2 onions finely chopped
- 2 tsps ginger paste
- 1 big tomato finely chopped
- 2 - 3 green chillies slit
- 2 cloves
- 2 once inch cinnamon
- 2 green cardamom
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsps turmeric powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp kashimiri chili powder
- 1 tsp garam masala powder
- 3 tbsps mustard oil
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Heat a little oil in a small pan, roast the rice till it just catches a tinge of light brown. Keep aside.
- Carefully clean the fish head, marinate with salt and turmeric. Heat oil in a pan, fry the fish head until golden brown. Keep on a kitchen towel to drain the excess oil.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan, temper with bay leaves, crushed cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Allow the spices to release their aroma.
- Now add the chopped onions and fry over a medium flame till soft and translucent.
- Add the ginger paste, chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and kashimiri chilli powder and continue to cook till oil starts to separate from the masala.
- Add the fried gobindobhog rice and green chillies now, mix gently and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Add 1.5 cup of warm water, cover and cook till rice is about half done, stirring occasionally.
- Smash the fried fish head into smaller pieces and add to the rice, mix well and continue to cook till the rice is done. If its getting too dry and tending to stick to the bottom of the pan, sprinkle a little water.
- Finish with garam masala powder and ghee.
- Allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Serve hot.