It is unbelievable that something with a handful of ingredients can taste so divine.

The pabda machh is one of the most beloved of Bengal’s fishes. It is sweet to the taste, flaky, and delicately flavoured. To top it all off, it is also extremely easy to eat, as it contains no bones besides the central skeleton. This recipe, pabda machh’er tel jhol, is a delicacy in Bengali cooking. ‘Tel jhol’ is the name given to a light curry, which is infused with kaalo jeere, green chillies, and mustard oil. Because it is sparsely spiced, this style of curry doesn’t overpower the star ingredient—the fish—but lets it shine on its own. If you have managed to procure a batch of fresh pabda, this should be your go-to jhol.


COOKING TIME 30 minutes
YIELDS 5 servings


Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
450 g Pabda machh (cut and cleaned)
35 g Mustard oil (for frying)
7 g Mustard oil (for cooking)
7 g Mustard oil (for garnish)
¼ tsp Kaalo jeere (nigella seeds)
5 pieces Green chillies (slit)
25 g Tomato (roughly chopped)
10 pieces Dal’er bori
100 g Brinjal (5-cm segments)
15 g (plus ¾ tsp extra for marinating) Salt
6 g (plus ¾ tsp extra for marinating) Turmeric powder
½ tsp Atta (flour)
8 g Coriander leaves (finely chopped)
400 g Warm water

Equipment

  • Kadai | frying pan
  • Khunti | long spatula

Appliances

  • Stove
  • Electric kettle (optional)

Method

STEP I—PREPPING THE INGREDIENTS

  1. Smear the cut and cleaned padba machh with ¾ tsp turmeric powder, ¾ tsp salt, and 1 tsp mustard oil. Mix till the fish are well coated, and set aside.
  2. Cut the brinjal into 5-cm segments. We need as many pieces of brinjal as there are fish—in this case, five.
  3. Roughly chop the tomatoes.
  4. Slit the green chillies.

STEP II—FRYING THE BORI, BRINJAL, AND FISH

  1. Heat your kadai well and add 35 g mustard oil to the pan.
  2. Once the oil is completely hot (that is, once it has begun to smoke lightly and changed colour to a pale yellow), add the dal’er bori.
  3. Fry the boris for about 20 seconds till they are golden brown. They colour very quickly, so be alert while frying them.
  4. Remove the boris from the oil and set aside.
  5. Next, add the brinjal pieces to the oil.
  6. Stir-fry for about 4 minutes till they are golden. Remove them from the oil and set aside.
  7. Now, in batches, fry the marinated fish. Fresh, sweetwater fish such as the pabda do not need heavy searing. Fry them lightly to preserve their delicate flavour. A minute on each side should do the job.
  8. Remove the fried fish on a plate and reserve for later use.

STEP III—MAKING THE JHOL

  1. Before we start, make a paste with 15 g salt, 6 g turmeric powder, and 50 g water. Mix and keep ready.
  2. Heat 7 g mustard oil in the kadai. (If the oil that you fried the fish in is not burnt, you may use the same oil to prepare the jhol.)
  3. Add the kaalo jeere, tomatoes, and 3 green chillies to the oil.
  4. Fry them for a minute on medium heat.
  5. Add the turmeric and salt mixture to the pan, and fry till the water in the spice mix dries up.
  6. Now, pour 400 g of hot water (either heated in an electric kettle or on the stove) into the pan. This will form the curry.
  7. Once the curry starts to simmer, add in the fried boris.
  8. Simmer for another 2 minutes before lowering in the pabda machh, one by one. Also add the fish drippings that might have collected on the plate that held the fried fish; they are delicious.
  9. Add the fried brinjal to the curry.
  10. Let everything bubble for about 5 minutes. As the curry boils, you will notice that the colour of the jhol has changed from deep yellow to bright yellow. That’s when you know that the turmeric is cooked, and that the curry won’t taste of the raw spice.
  11. Now, pick one of the softened green chillies from the curry onto a small bowl. Add ½ tsp atta to it, along with 1 tbsp of water. Mash the three together, until paste-like.
  12. Add this mixture to the jhol. The mashed green chilli will release the heat, while the flour will help the curry thicken and develop body.
  13. Garnish with 2 more slit green chillies, a drizzle of mustard oil (about 7 g), and chopped coriander.
  14. Allow everything to bubble for a couple of more minutes, before turning off the heat.

Served with