Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bengali Fish Stew - Maacher Jhol

It turns out that the first Indian recipe that made it into my regular cooking rotation was from Bengal, specifically a dal that still holds a special place in my heart. I posted about it here when it was transformed into a soup, but it wasn't until this fish stew - Maacher Jhol - crossed my path that I realized that Panch Phoron was distinctively Bengali. It was what made the dal delicious and definitely is a defining part of this stew.

The interesting part about first learning to cook Indian cuisine is getting used to what feels like little finicky steps which turn out to be essential. For this dish, it is tossing the fish with some turmeric prior frying it. Seems like a throwaway step, why bother? But it is essential. Follow what mistresses of the kitchen have done for centuries, they know of what they do!

Also, while you can substitute cayenne pepper for kashmiri chile powder and use another oil (ghee, olive oil) for the traditional mustard oil, if you can procure either or both ingredients (usually at an Indian grocery store; I stock up when I'm near them), it is so worth it since it enhances the flavor dramatically. You won't regret it!

Incidentally, the photo above pictures a version made with fish that was gifted to us from my beau's daughter's friend who had caught some fresh ling cod and we were the happy beneficiaries! Thanks Rico!

Bengali Fish Stew - Maacher Jhol (from recipe)
(serves 2-3)

1 lb halibut cut into 2 x 2” pieces
1 russet potato, cut into bite size pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic,
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric, divided
1 teaspoon kashmiri chile powder (or cayenne)
1 teaspoon Panch Phoron (equal amounts of cumin, fennel, kaloni, fenugreek, and black mustard seeds)
1 cup of water
mustard oil for cooking (optional but gives it that distinctive flavor)

Pat fish dry and toss with ½ teaspoon turmeric and set aside to marinate. In a deep skillet or heavy bottom pan heat over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add ½ inch of mustard oil and gently fry fish on both sides until almost done (the fish will look opaque on the outside but will still be somewhat raw on the inside. Remove from oil and set aside in a bowl. In the same pan, add potatoes and fry for 5 minutes until outsides are cooked. Set aside (separate from the fish).

Pour off the oil and clean out the pan or use a new pan large enough to hold the entire stew. Pour saved oil into the pan to fry Panch Phoron until the seeds begin to sputter. Add onion, stir and cook another 3-4 minutes. As onion cooks, combined cumin, coriander, ½ teaspoon turmeric and Kashmiri chile powder in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of water and combine to make a paste. Add potatoes to the pan and stir well, and then add spice paste to pan and stir well to coat potatoes. Add 1 cup of water to pan and bring to boil. 

Once boiling, add tomato and cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir well, stew should be saucy and if it is too liquidy, allow some of it to boil off. Add smashed garlic once stew is at consistency you desire and gently add the fish back to the stew. Cook another 3-4 minutes to make sure fish is cooked through (it will be begin to flake apart.) Season with salt and serve with rice and your desired condiments such as Tamarind Chutney, Fig Chutney, and raita.


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