Shutki mach or Bengali style dried fish curry

6:23 PM

'Aj Shutki Mach banachhi. (today am making dried fish curry)' she called out as we opened the gate to leave. Maa looked back and Dida waved smiling from ear to ear.

I had no clue what it was but could understand it must have been something very good as maa scrambled to gather her things after finishing classes in the college.

I was around 4 then. Often accompanied maa to her Mastergrad classes. While she studied, I was left in charge of her other batch mates or often in the common room where the professors indulged me in stories and toffees. I was a  talkative kid and Maa was adored for who she was and also for how she strived to get her degree even after three kids.
That day we reached home earlier than other weekdays. Maa quickly changed her saree and sat down in the big open kitchen for lunch with Dida by her side. They both looked happy and as a stubborn 4 years old I wanted a share of that.  I threw a fit and demanded a little serving with my regular dal bhat machbhaja (Rice-lentil and fried fish).

They protested but had to give in after a bit and what followed was unimaginable. I cried yet finished that very spicy fish curry to the last morsel. Even today when I think of Dida's shutki mach I salivate. She has a unique way of treating dry fish.

Later Maa taught me the recipe and many winter late mornings were spent prepping and cooking this fish in my sunny kitchen. She would sit on the dining table and prep the fish and telling stories of the time I did not remember. We would make umpteen cups of tea and later after everyone would finish their meal we would sit down and relish the curry.
Thanks to my friend Amrita Gill, I even got to share it on Rocky and Mayur's popular show..... Express. It was a riot to cook the dish with a pure vegetarian like Mayur because the smell it emanates while prepping is quite fishy and this is the exact reason that makes this dish not so popular among the masses. It's quite an acquired taste.

Last month on our visit to my in law's place I found my most favourite Rupa Patia  shutki ( a variety of Ribbonfish). After coming home-cooked the fish just the way I learned. We had a great meal even my 11-year-old boy loved it.

Shutki mach is naturally very popular in the Coastal areas or where fish is abundant. The extra produce is cured with salt and dried under the direct sun to preserve and store them for long. It is said that Ghoti Bengalis or the Bengalis of West Bengal are not very fond of this. Which is not entirely true. In the coastal parts of Midnapore and 24 parganas drying fish is a means of preservation and they love such dishes. Maa used to tell that people in earlier days dried their own fish and it used to be a sight to see the fish drying on a clothesline around one's verandah.

Shutki mach er torkari

Dry fish: 200 gms (you can choose from Bombay duck, Fyasa or Rupa patia)
Broad bean or Shim: 5-6 pieces
Potato: 1 large,
Brinjal: 8-10 pieces of 1/2" batons
Onion: 2 medium (finely sliced 1 cup)
Ginger paste: 3/4 tbsp
Garlic paste 1 tbsp
Tomato: 1 large (Chopped 1/2 cup)
Green Chillies: 4-5 or as per your taste
Chili powder: 1/2 tsp
Kashmiri Chili powder for colour: 1/2 tsp
Mustard oil: 4 tbsp

Preparing the Shutki for cooking:
First prepare the fish by removing the fins using a scissor and then cut them in 1" pieces.
Soak in a big bowl of water for 5 minutes. Rub to remove all the dirt and sand. and wash 3-4 more times with a fresh change of water.
Bring a pot of water to boil and put the fish in it. Let it boil for 5=6 minutes. Drain the water and let it cool. Then using your pestle or something heavy break the fish pieces. This way you can easily remove the central and big bones from it. Discard the bones and reserve the fish for cooking.

Peel the potatoes and cut in thick batons.
Remove the top and tail of the broad beans and cut in 1" pieces.
Cut the brinjal in thick long pieces.

Heat the oil and add the sliced onion. Saute with a pinch of salt for 8-10 minutes.
Next, add the ginger and garlic paste. Sprinkle the turmeric and chili powder on top. Mix and cook on medium for 4-5 minutes. Next add finely chopped tomato, mix, and cover. Cook till the tomato is mushy and Cooked through (8-10 minutes). You should be able to see drops of oil oozing at the sides.

Now add all the veggies and pounded fish pieces. Sprinkle little water (1 tbsp or so) and mix everything. Adjust the seasoning and cover. Let it cook on low-medium heat for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir once in between.

Now add 1/2 cup of warm water to it and mix. Check the seasoning again. Add 3-4 green chilies for flavor.

Cover and cook till the veggies are done. Depending on the quality of your vegetables you might need to add more water. Add warm water accordingly.
The end dish should be dryish with oily gravy coating the veggies and fish.

Serve warm with steamed rice.


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