This is a light curry of the climbing perch fish (koi machh) and fried cauliflower florets.

Koi machh is a delicacy in Bengali cooking. Also known as the climbing perch fish because of its ability climb out of water and walk on land for short distances, koi machh is always bought live at fish markets. It has an extremely slippery exterior, making the use of ash rather necessary while handling the fish for cleaning. Even if the koi machh is scaled, degilled, and cleaned by your fish-seller, it might still be quite slimy to the touch. At home, you may need to rub the fish against an abrasive surface to get rid of the slipperiness (a perforated, steel colander-plate does this job quite well).

Coming to this recipe, its main ingredients, koi machh and phulkopi (cauliflower), are fried separately to enhance their flavours, and then added to the delicious jhol. The jhol itself is a hot, gingery, garam-masala-infused curry that is mildly sweet, but never too spicy. It uplifts the taste of anything it gets soaked up in—potatoes, cauliflower, bori, or the fish. Eaten with a generous helping of steaming hot rice, this dish, the phulkopi diye koi machh’er jhol is the Bengali’s favourite fish curry for the winter months.


COOKING TIME 40 minutes
YIELDS 5 servings


Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
30 g Mustard oil (for frying)
10 g Mustard oil (for cooking)
350 g (or 5 pieces) Koi machh (climbing perch fish)
150 g (or 5 pieces) Cauliflower (5-cm florets)
100 g (or 5 pieces) Potatoes (cut lengthwise)
10 pieces Dal’er bori
20 g Tomato (3-cm quarters)
¼ tsp Cumin seeds (whole)
2 pcs Cardamom (whole)
1 piece Cinnamon (whole)
1 piece Bay leaf
4 pieces Green chillies (slit)
7 g Ginger paste
15 g Cumin powder
4 g (plus ¾ tsp for marinating) Turmeric powder
1 g Red chilli powder
18 g (plus ¾ tsp for marinating) Salt
15 g Sugar
350 g Water (hot)
6 g Coriander leaves (finely chopped)

Equipment

  • Mixing bowl
  • Kadai | frying pan
  • Lid for the cooking vessel
  • Khunti | long spatula

Appliances

  • Stove

Method

STEP I—PREPPING THE INGREDIENTS

  1. Smear the koi machh with ¾ tsp each of salt and turmeric till they are evenly coated. Set them aside.
  2. Cut a cauliflower into chunky florets, about 5 cm large. Take as many florets as there are pieces of fish (in this case, five).
  3. Peel and cut the potatoes lengthwise. Again, we need as many pieces of potatoes as there are fish.
  4. Chop the tomato into 3-cm quarters.

STEP II—FRYING THE BORI, CAULIFLOWER, AND FISH

  1. Heat a kadai till it is completely hot. Drizzle 30 g mustard oil into the pan till it starts smoking lightly, and changes colour from deep to pale yellow.
  2. Add all the dal’er bori into the oil and fry them till they are golden. This should take about 15–20 seconds. The bori tend to brown quickly, so stay on the watch.
  3. Remove the fried bori from the pan and set aside.
  4. Now, add the cauliflower florets, along with ¼ tsp of salt, to the pan and fry them till they develop a light-brown colour. This should take about 4 minutes in all.
  5. Remove the cauliflower from the pan and set aside.
  6. Finally, add the marinated koi machh to the same oil, one at a time, and fry them for no longer than a minute on each side. This is a freshwater fish with delicate flavours. So be sure not to sear the fish too long.
  7. Remove the fish from the pan and set aside.
  8. You now have fried bori, fried cauliflower, and fried fish ready for use at a later stage, and can now move on to the preparation of the curry.

STEP III—MAKING THE JHOL

  1. At this point, inspect the oil in your pan. If it looks too burnt, replace it with 10 g of fresh mustard oil. If it is alright, use the same oil to cook the curry in as it contains all the flavour from the fried fish.
  2. Temper the oil, set on medium heat, with the bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin seeds, and 2 slit green chillies.
  3. Add the potatoes to the pan and fry them, with the lid on, for 4 minutes.
  4. While the potatoes are frying, make a paste by combining cumin powder, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, salt, sugar, and 50 g water.
  5. Add this mixture into the pan and fry it, with lid on, till the water dries up.
  6. Now, add in the ginger paste and the tomatoes, and incorporate them with the spices. Introduce another 50 g water to the pan and sauté the spices again till the water dries off.
  7. The key here is to cover and cook because, alongside sautéing the spices, we also want to allow time for the potatoes to become tender.
  8. Add in the fried cauliflower florets, fold them into the spices, and cook them for a minute or so.
  9. Now, add 350 g of hot water to the pan. This will form the curry.
  10. Once it comes to a boil, add in the fried bori, fried fish, and two (more) of the slit green chillies.
  11. Using a spoon, gently try and submerge the fish in the curry. Be delicate as the fish is quite fragile at this stage.
  12. Cover the pan and allow the curry to simmer for about 6 minutes.
  13. Chop fresh coriander and add it to the pan. Let it simmer in the curry for another minute before turning off the heat.

Served with