Bata Macher Jhal (Labeo bata in mustard gravy)2:03 AM
Bata or Labeo Bata is a very popular fish in Bengal. Being a fresh water fish native to India and Bangladesh it's favoured by the Bengalis in both these countries. Though it is loved for it's taste yet the fine bones deters some from enjoying them.
The people of Bangladesh, the country of many rivers are a big lover of fish. As much as I have encountered their dishes not much vegetables are cooked without some part of fish in it. Unlike Purba Bangla (Indian Bengalis) Bangladeshi people mostly do not fry their fish steaks before adding to the curry. Mainly because whole of Bangladesh has so many rivers that they always gets the freshest catches and do not have to eat fish which are even a day old. And they cook their fishes in myriad of ways and it's very unfair to categorise all their techniques, recipes under a simple name of Curry, which in my opinion would be World's biggest misnomer.
Our very popular macher jhol in Bangladesh is called Salan, salun or Chan where fish is cooked in simple broth of onion and spices. When veggies are added to it It's called Torkari. Similarly a Salan cooked with mustard is called 'Jhal Salan'. Just how we call Macher jhal when it has mustard in it. I was elated to see my theory of 'it's not macher jhal unless you have mustard in it' being supported by Chef Shoukat Osman of Bangladesh in his book Matsanno. I still believe that's how the differences in recipes were done earlier which with time got faded and named as per one's personal preferences.
In our family we have this rule of frying the fish till it's golden for curries with mustard paste, which to our opinion brings out the best flavour. So here is my quick recipe, Sometimes we also add potatoes to this, especially when we have more people to feed. That way the plates look fuller and everyone gets a taste of it.
So here is my very simple recipe of Bata Macher Jhal with minimum use of spices.
Bata Fish: 4 pieces
Nigella seeds: 1/2 Tsp
Tomato: a small one (optional but I used)
Green chilies: 4-5 or as per your taste
Mustard paste: 2 tbsp
Chili powder: /2 tsp (optional)
Mustard oil: 3 tbsp
Fresh coriander for garnishing (optional and I dint use)
Wash and clean the fish. Make a couple of slits on each side. Rub with salt and turmeric and keep aside for at least 5 minutes.
Mix the mustard paste with half cup water and keep aside.
Heat the oil in a flat heavy bottom pan (frying pan) and carefully and fry the fish pieces till they are golden on each side. Be careful, frying whole fish a little tricky take utmost care not to break them. Take out and keep aside.
In the same oil add the nigella seeds after rubbing them on your palm along with the green chilllies slit lengthwise. It will splutter so be careful. cut the tomato in rounds and add to the hot oil, sprinkle salt and stir for a minute. It will start to disintegrate. Now stir the mustard water and pour it from the top, make sure the brown husks dont get in to the pan. Pour 1/4 cup water to the same bowl, mix and pour the water to the pan. Check the seasoning and add turmeric, chili powder and salt accordingly.
Cover and bring it to a boil then carefully slide the fried fish pieces in it. Gently give it a stir or just shake the pan. Add more green chilies if you wish for a nice aroma. Cover and let it simmer on medium low flame for the fish pieces to absorb the flavour. Make sure to flip the fish pieces once to cook evenly.
Once the gravy thickens check the seasoning again. You can drizzle a few drops of mustard oil just before taking it off the heat or add chopped coriander leaves.
Serve with steamed rice.