Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bhetki Machher Laal Jhol - Bhekti Stew Bengali Style

Our local fish seller stocks most fish varieties that Bengalis like and of them all, the hubby really likes Bhetki. With few bones and a delicious flavour, this fish is something that we have on our table quite often. While the boneless fillets are great simply fried, once in a way I also make a typical Bengali style jhol or thin stew.

There must be only a rare few Bengalis who don't have strong memories associated with childhood, comfort, security and 'maccher jhol'. Fish is served practically every day in a traditional household and my mother also cooked fish daily. There was always a jhol or jhal or, if nothing else, a bhaja.

I remember two basic variations of the daily jhol - the jeere'r jhol or pale greenish grey stew which included a variety of vegetables along with plump Rui  or Katla steaks, and the laal jhol (as I called it) - a richer red gravy with onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic. Jeere'r jhol was more frequently made while the laal jhol was made maybe once or twice a month. Though I love both versions, as a kid I yearned for the laal jhol - probably because it wasn't made that frequently.

I had some bhetki steaks at hand and I decided to make that same Laal Jhol of my childhood. My mother always added potatoes to this but since I had none in stock I made mine without potatoes. Do add them if you're making this jhol - half the joy is in squishing the soft flavourful potatoes into the rice as you enjoy mouthfuls of this wonderful jhol.

Bhetki Machher Laal Jhol

4 - 6 Bhetki steaks, with the bone

2 large onions minced fine or made into a paste
2 large potatoes, cut into large pieces
2 medium tomatoes, puréed. Use fresh tomatoes.
3 - 4 fresh green chillies

Mustard oil

chilli powder
cumin/jeera powder
ginger-garlic paste

3 green cardamoms/elaichi
2 bay leaves
1 black cardamom/ bad elaichi

Smear salt and turmeric on the fish steaks and leave aside.

Heat the mustard oil in a thick bottomed wok or kadai till it smokes. Reduce flame. Fry the potato pieces and once they start getting a little red, remove to a plate.

In the same oil fry the fish steaks in two batches. Add more oil if necessary and be sure to heat the oil really well before adding the fish. Don't cook them through, just fry lightly till the surface on both sides is opaque. Remove to a plate.

Now add the whole spices into the oil and fry for a minute till they release their flavours and aromas. Add in the minced onions. Sprinkle a generous pinch of sugar and continue to fry the onions.

Dissolve 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp chilli powder and 1 tsp cumin powder in a little bit of water - about 2 tbsp should do. Pour this into the frying onions. Stir really well and see that it doesn't burn. Add in the puréed tomato and a tablespoon of ginger garlic paste. Mix it all well, add another tablespoon or two of water and let it cook. Keep the flame low so it doesn't burn. You will need to fry this for a bit stirring and mixing frequently.

Add the fresh green chillies. I just break them in half but you can also split them down the middle if you like more heat. Put in the fried potatoes too.

Add about two cups of water and bring it all to a good rolling boil. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. Once the gravy looks cooked and the potatoes are nearly done, add the fish steaks carefully. It won't take more than 3-4 minutes for the fish to cook.

Remove carefully to a nice serving bowl and enjoy this Laal jhol with plain hot rice.


Pinku said...

Some simple things being great joy. Honest home food such as this is one of them :)

Kurush F Dalal said...

had it for lunch today .... it was yummmm :D