Spicy Bengali fish curry

  • Serves: 4-6
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 30 minutes
  • Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¾kg/1.5 lbs fresh firm fish
  • 4 green chillies
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp. red chilli powder (optional)
  • 2-3 cups boiling or hot water
  • 1 handful chopped coriander/cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Salt
Spicy Bengali fish curry

This spicy Bengali fish curry recipe is from Lani Siddique, and was kindly submitted to Kitchen Geekery by Sara Hafiz.

The recipe below is as simple as a true fish curry can get. My parents taught me to add potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine/eggplant, cauliflower, mustard seed paste and even lentil dumplings (bori) to their fish dishes, but I’ve provided the basic recipe that can be embellished as you wish.

Some of the credit for this recipe goes to my sister-in-law, Tania, who taught me the proper preparation of fish, and to use lots of onions and oil!

Don’t be alarmed by the amount of oil used, as it is needed to properly sauté the onions and create a nice gravy. If it’s still a concern the oil could be skimmed off later in the cooking process.

The fish used should be firm, so fish like; tilapia, catfish, bass, shad, carp, or sea bream would work. I personally find fish steaks are preferable to use- just watch out for the bones!

Side dishes can include a simple dal and stir-fried vegetables. If vegetables are added along with the fish, then it could be a one-pot meal served over rice. If adding vegetables, increase the amount of salt and spices to taste.

It’s my hope that this recipe will transport you to green, peaceful, rural Bengal.

Preparation

Thoroughly wash the fish in cold water. The fish you use, and those recommended,  should have no strong smell. Cut the fish into 1¼ inch steaks, or into large pieces. Then place the fish in a large bowl and sprinkle with a 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. of turmeric.

Shake the bowl so that all the pieces of fish are coated with the turmeric. Handling the turmeric will stain your hands so try not to touch — or just use a large spoon. Then let the fish sit while you start the sauce/gravy.

Method

  1. Heat the oil on medium high, in a large, deep sauté pan (preferably with two handles). Put in the onions and sauté, stirring frequently.
  2. When the onions are golden brown, add the whole chillies. If you want to impart the chillies heat, make a slit into one or two of them.
  3. When the chillies turn a bright green and are a little blistered (Takes about 1 minute), add the turmeric, 1½ tsp. salt, cumin, and chilli powder (if using) and stir together for about 20 seconds.
  4. The onions should all be browned by now. Stir in the boiling water – a little at a time – maintaining a simmer. Adding the hot water slowly creates the sauce or gravy, so only add 2 cups at first. More water can always be added later if desired – it just depends on your personal preference.
  5. Add the fish, making sure it’s partially submerged in the sauce. The sauce can be spooned over the fish and more water added if necessary.
  6. Cover with a lid and maintain a steady strong simmer on medium high heat.
  7. After 5 minutes, carefully take potholders, grasp the handles and lid (still on), and swirl the pan around. You will feel the fish loosen from the bottom, without breaking it apart. If the fish is sticking to the bottom too much, turn down the heat to medium, and please note that only a sturdy fish like catfish can be stirred or flipped with a spatula.
  8. Begin to cook the rice in another pan.
  9. Swirl the pan again after another 5 minutes has passed.  
  10. When most of the oil has risen to the top — which takes another ten or fifteen minutes, depending on what kind of fish is used — turn off the heat.
  11. Skim off the oil if you choose, and sprinkle the curry generously with coriander/cilantro.
  12. Serve with a squeeze of lime paired with some plain white rice.
Turmeric is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin C and Magnesium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin B6, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.

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