Thursday, 11 June 2015

Bengali Fish Curry (Macher Jhol) with Fried Cumin and Dry Red Chilly

Bengali Fish Curry tempered with Fried Cumin and Dry Red Chilly Spices  

Our family belongs to Khulna District of Bangladesh and our paternal grandparents shifted to India long back, when I was not even born. They shifted with their families in South Kolkata (Behala), however, they still follow the traditions and practices of their root of origin, which is reflected in the recipes and customs. The recipe, which I am sharing here, is one such appetizing, special preparation of our culture, which is a simple fish curry. It can be prepared with simple ingredients, and I have learnt the recipe from the culinary chronicles from my mother and grandmother. The gravy preparation "Bhaja Mashla" can be used alternatively with eggs, and any kind of fishes, like Bhetki, Rohu and Prawns. It is worth mentioning, that this preparation takes very little time, as all you have to do is make the masala and mix it at the right time of the curry preparation. Hence, I recommend this for beginners also. 

Servings: (For 4 persons); Preparation Time: (1/2-Hour); Difficulty Level: (Low)


  • Rohu or Bhetki (It tastes best with these two fishes) : 1-Kg (cut into steaks, properly washed, and scales removed)
  • Bay Leaf: 1-Piece
  • Turmeric Powder: 1-teaspoon
  • Red Chilly Powder: 1-teaspoon
  • Cumin Powder-1/2 a teaspoon
  • Garam Masala Powder-1/2 a teaspoon
  • Green Chilly: 3-Whole
  • Dry Red Chilly: 1-Whole
  • Ginger Paste: 1-Tablespoon
  • Mustard Oil: 5-Tablespoon 
  • Cumin Seeds: 1-Tablespoon
  • Potatoes: 2-(Cut in four horizontal slender slices) (Optional)
  • All purpose flour: Pinch
Nb: In Bengali, we always say that if you wash a fish several times it taste great, however, if you wash chicken or mutton, it becomes fibrous. Hence, before cooking, it is always advisable to give the fish steaks a proper wash and removal of any unwanted scales and blood stains. 

Fish Curry Tempered with Roasted Cumin Seeds and Dry Red Chilly Paste (Copyright, Authorel, Saswati Chakraborty)

Process of Making:

1. Marinating and Frying the Fish Steaks:
Marinating fishes is not a time-taking process like marinating chicken and mutton. Unlike chicken and mutton, the marinating process of fishes takes approximately ten to fifteen minutes or even less and far less complicated. This process involves mixing of only pinch of turmeric powder and pinch of salt with the fish steaks. The fish pieces are thoroughly rubbed with turmeric and salt. After marinating, they are kept aside in a covered bowl and they are ready for frying in mustard oil.

In a medium-sized pan, heat 3-tablespoon mustard oil. When  oil gets heated, then fry the fish steaks slowly by adding the pieces in the pan. Fry the pieces well by tossing and turning each sides of the fish steaks with the help of a cooking spud. When both the sides of the steaks are reddish in edges and show a rich golden color, then it is indicated that the steaks are cooked almost two-third from within. The fish steaks are slowly removed from the pan in a separate plate with tissue paper to soak of extra oil associated with it. These fried fish steaks are kept aside to cool down. (Nb: To avoid excessive spluttering of oil, while frying fishes, you can add pinch of salt to balance the boiling point of oil).

2. Frying The Potatoes:
The tradition of adding potatoes in "Bengali Fish Curry" is an age-old custom. However, people who wants to exclude potatoes can simply cut off potatoes from this recipe if they wish. I prefer adding potatoes in this particular curry as I feel personally that potatoes add little consistency and richness in the taste of this curry. For adding potatoes, they should be peeled, washed and cut in a horizontal, slender manner so that they boil quickly. However, before adding, the potatoes should be fried in the same oil, in which the fish steaks are fried. In this manner, the extra oil is used up and the potatoes are also fried in a golden brown manner. The fried potatoes are kept aside along with the fish steaks, to be added later in the curry. People who are not adding potatoes can directly follow the third step of the process.

3. Preparing the Fried Masala of Cumin Seeds and Dry Red Chilly:
This is the main step of the process. Some fresh oil (2-tablespoon) are added in the pan in which previously fish steaks are fried. After the oil gets heated properly, one tablespoon cumin seeds and one dry red chilly is added to the oil. When the cumin seeds start spluttering, then the gas is turned off and the pan is removed from the gas (Please be careful, so that the cumin seeds and red chilly does not burn. Burning of spices, gives a pungent smell and foul odor to the dish). With a slotted spoon take out some of the fried cumin seeds and the dry red chilly out of the oil in a mortar and pestle. Add one green chilly in the mortar and make a fine paste of the fried cumin seeds, fried red chilly and green chilly and keep it aside.

4. Preparing the Fish Curry: 

This is the last step, where the curry is prepared from other remaining ingredients. If needed, you can add some extra (1-tablespoon oil), however, in most cases, that is not needed. Turn of the heat and let the oil reach its appropriate temperature. There are some cumin seeds already remaining in the oil, which are not removed for making the fried masala. In this oil, we will add one bay leaf and one tablespoon ginger paste (freshly prepared). Do not sauté for long time and add little water. The reason for this is, if ginger is fried for a long time, it gets clotted and leaves a pungent, tangy taste, which is quite offensive. After adding water, the rest of the dry spices are added, like turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cumin powder, pinch of garam masala powder and lastly the potatoes. Sauté the mixture properly to remove the raw flavor of the masala. When you see, that oily bubbles are appearing on the surface of the masala, it is an indication that the frying of masala is complete. Add some extra water according to the quantity of gravy you want to prepare and give it a boil. When you see the curry boiling, add the fish pieces and cover the pan with a lid. Add salt to taste and stir nicely to mix well. Cook it for 10 minutes on a low flame. By the time it is getting cooked, take pinch of all purpose flour in a plate and mix it with water. Mix this paste with slitted green chilly and mix this along with the fried masala which you have prepared and kept aside before. Add this fried masala paste to your curry and simmer it on low flame for another five minutes. The curry will give a nice aroma of green chilly and fried masala. Turn off the gas and let the curry cool down. Your Fish Curry is all ready to be served. Garnish it with green chilly. sliced tomatoes and coriander leaves!!

You can add some variations in this preparation by adding one tomato or some coriander leaves. During winter season, you can add cauliflower florets along with potatoes when cooking with Bhetki fish. 


  1. This is extremely well written and I am tempted to try it out exactly ad described. I thought I know all about fish curry and you proved me wrong. Thank you dear

  2. Onekdin age ami blog likhtam. Somoy Pele amar lekha gulo poris

  3. Thank you dear Mona!! I am happy that you dropped in and visited my blog. I have tried to share whatever I know about one of our favourite recipes. You can try it. It tastes extremely well. Give me your blog I.d. I will surely give it a read. Happy to read my friend's blog!!