Moshla pora Mach Paturi /Spiced fish grilled in Banana leaf

6:59 PM

It's amazing how the human mind works. It's a mystery in itself the way it associates smells, colours, visuals and brings back the memory of some distant time you never even remember existed. but the most unsettling part is it's not always clear. sometimes it comes back in a flavour here, in a voice there Not that we ever complain but at times when you cannot put a finger on what it is, it could become really unsettling. As I always say giving tangible forms to memories is not possible and sometimes the memory is so faint that you do not even dare to try too hard. 

Last year while holidaying in Bali, We had this Seafood dish called Sambal Pepes Ikan. A whole Seabass was marinated in spicy Sambal paste and wrapped and grilled on hot charcoal grill. A spoonful of that Reminded me of my Dida's Moshla pora mach Paturi. I had this dish once, long back when I was still in school. She was visiting us while maa was away on a business trip. Chacha our doorstep fish monger urger her to take the freshly caught whole Tilapia. I still remember the way Dadu called out from the Verandah and told Dida to buy the fish and make this moshla paturi. The lunch that day was phenomenal. After painstakingly prepering the spices she grilled the fish in the garden, in a makeshift grill prepared by our gardener with a few bricks and an iron net. The smoky aroma from the woodfire embers completely changed the flavour profile of the dish and made that winter afternoon meal a memorable one. 

Later while studying food from the different region I came to know about this Oriya dish called Machhi Patra poda (fish grilled in Banana leaf), which made the connection easier. Our roots being in the coastal part of Midnapore, a lot of recipes from Orisa have trickled through the border to our cuisine. Much later, at the beginning of this year while doing a pop up with a few ladies of Sundarban a similar dish was mentioned again. They called it paturi as the parcel of small river fish along with cooked spices was steamed instead of grilled, but the flavour and process were quite the same.

I knew I had to try and recreate it, following the path of memory, the way 16 years old I saw it being made.

Before I start just let me explain that Moshla pora mach mach paturi may not be the right name. Am not sure if any such dish ever existed or it was an invention by Dida. Pora in Bengali means burnt and since the fish is cooked on a charcoal grill, hence the name.

Moshla pora mach paturi
(serves 4)

Tilapia fishes: 2 pieces (450-500 gms each)
Onion: 2 large ones (use the purple onions)(chopped 11/4 cup)
Ginger: 2" piece
Garlic: 1 whole bulb
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp *see notes
Coriander seeds: 1 tsp *see notes
Tomato: 2 medium +few more thin slices
Green chillies: 3-4
Turmeric Powder: 1 tsp
Dry red chillies: 5-6 pieces  *Please see notes
Fresh coriander: 1/3 cup roughly chopped
Lemon: 1
Oil: 2 tbsp
Banana leaves: 4 pieces, 12"x12" pieces

Soak the red chilies in hot water for 15 minutes.
Get the fish cleaned but keep it whole. Make 3-4 slits on each side of the fish. Marinate it with lemon juice, salt and turmeric and keep aside.

Cut the onion, ginger, garlic etc in smaller pieces. Place these in a mixer jar or best if you can do it in a mortar and pestle. Also add the soaked chilies, turmeirc, slat, cumin seeds and coriander seeds, Pulse it to make a somewhat smooth paste.
Slice the tomatoes very fine and keep aside.

Heat the oil and put the spices in the pan. Cook on medium for 10-12 minutes till Oil starts too separate at the sides.
Now add the chopped tomato and cook for 5-6 minutes, till they are mushy. Check the seasoning of the spices and if needed adjust.
Take it off the heat and cool down for a few minutes. Mix in coriander leaves and halved green chilies.

Clean the banana leaves and dry them using a kitchen towel. Quickly move them over an open flame to make them pliable/foldable. Apply 1/4 of the spice on one side of the fish and put it spice side down on one of the leaves. Apply another quarter of the spices on the top along with some coriander greens, chilies and if you like a slice of lemon. Wrap the leaf on all sides and then wrap it with another leaf from the top. Using a string tie it tightly so that nothing comes out of the wrap. Repeat for the second fish.

Now either you can grill it for 5-7 minutes on each side or till it's done or grill on a grill pan for 10 minutes on each side. For smaller fish, you would require lesser time. To check the doneness insert a toothpick in the center of the packet, If it goes through smoothly you know it's done. The end result would be a flavour packed moist fish.

A Homemaker's Notes:

  • Do not use cumin and coriander powder if you want a better flavour.
  • Also soaking dry red chilies and making a paste out of it gives it a nicer colour and flavour. I often use Kashmiri chilies for flavour and colour and lesser heat.
  • Similarly better flavour is ensure if the spices are ground on a stone mortar and pestle. My grandma vouched for it and so do I.

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