Bhetki Macher Kalia
(Fish in a rich gravy from Bengal)
We Bengalis from Eastern India are known for our love for fish. In fact there was a time when chicken was not allowed in most homes and mutton was also mostly avoided other than the meat cooked from animal sacrifice. Of course all that has changed and in fact Bengal was one of the first few states where one could enjoy a wide variety of cuisines but then again with time the rest of India caught up with its global outlook and some have more to offer than our state at present but a Bengali's love for fish remains unchanged. There are enough number of varieties of fish to confuse me and I personally do not like all the varieties but then again there is one fish which I simply love and that is the famous 'Bhetki' . Its probably the soft texture of the fish or the fact that it is what is mostly used for fries which most people love and is an item which is a definitive inclusion for all special occasions.
We Bengalis have a way of organizing and categorizing everything so we have soupy curries which we call 'Jhol' then the word 'Jhal' which literally translates to hot food can mean different things to different family. To my family any 'Jhal' will most obviously have mustard to provide the heat and then there is Kalia . I am not sure what it exactly means but all I know is it is a rich curry which is mostly served on special occasions. I recently read that it is called so because of the use of onions but since the source is not completely credible I wouldn't go by it.
Most homes have their own version of Kalia with addition and substraction of a few ingredients and as usual for traditional Bengali dishes I have looked upto my Mimi who has taught me the tricks of Bengali cuisine. Before I move on to the recipe I have to say a few words about my beloved aunt (Mother's Brother's wife). I have not seen any other lady who always produces perfect dishes from her kitchen. Her luchis are always perfectly puffed up (Puffed up flatbread) Her dishes always have the perfect balance between spices and saltiness and sweetness and if you follow her recipe then its a cakewalk because we all learn from experience as to what we must do and not do when preparing something but with Mimi she tells you beforehand what problems you might face. So she warns you that the fish might break for frying and you have to handle it gently or it would splutter oil so that int eh end you end up with a lovely dish and half of the credit goes to her. Here is a recipe which had been handed to her by her mother and since she has handed to me I might as well this recipe a heritage one.
Serves 4 to 5
Around 1 kilogram and 100gm Bhetki fish sliced into 8 pieces
1 heaped tbsp smooth ginger paste in which 2 green chilies has been added before making the paste
1 heaped tbsp smooth garlic paste
5 tbsp smooth onion paste
6 tbsp tomato paste
2 green cardamom
Cinnamon around the size of half a thumb
2 large bay leaves
Mustard oil to fry the fish
4 tbsp ghee
Salt as per taste
1 tsp chili powder
Turmeric for rubbing on the fish and a pinch to be used for the gravy
650ml of water
1 green chili for garnishing
Start by rubbing salt , turmeric and 1 tbsp mustard oil on the fish and marinating in it for about 1 hour. Now heat the oil and fry the fish but do not brown it. Since it will be used in the gravy one should ideally fry it lightly so that it reaches a nice golden colour and transfer to a big container.
Now decant the extra mustard oil and heat 3 tbsp ghee and add the ginger paste and garlic paste and sautee till the raw smell goes away and add the onion paste and then wait till the raw smell of onions go away and you find the oil separating and then add the tomato and crushed bay leaf and sautee till the oil separates out . Now crush the whole spices but do not grind them and add them and then bring the wet spice which is being cooked to a boil and add the chili powder, turmeric and salt and then simmer and add the water and bring to boil and then lower heat and add the fish one by one but very carefully and simmer covered for the next 15 minutes or so. You shall see a film of fat from the ghee and then switch off the gas stove and transfer it to a bowl. When transferring remember that the fish is soft so try and gently place them one by one and then use a bit of gravy and place a few more fish and top with more gravy. Use 1 slit green chili for garnishing and serve with plain steamed rice .
- The fish is very soft and so there is a chance that it might easily break so when turning it while frying handle it very gently.
- Do not brown the fish else the gravy would not penetrate through . ideally the fish should have a golden hue when you should take it out of the wok and transfer it to a dish.