This post has been first published on April, 2012. Republished today with fresh content, photographs and answer to some of the queries that I have received on this recipe of Bengali fish curry in mustard sauce.
Bengali Sorshe baata diye macher jhaal or fish in Bengali mustard gravy / sauce is perhaps one of the most iconic dish in Bengali cuisine. Though this dish would be a common everyday affair in most of the Bengali homes, but what makes it so unique and distinctive is the use of fresh mustard paste.
Mustard seeds as tempering spice is quite common through out India but using fresh or fermented mustard paste is limited only to the few eastern states of India. In Bengal, specially what was East Bengal then, in Dhaka-Bikrampur, making kashundi, the fermented mustard sauce was always considered a festive and auspicious event that demanded a high level of purity and hygiene. And the same goes with any fermented food preservation practices in those days.
Kashundi is not just a mustard sauce but a pickling process too. Having my ancestry hailed from the fore-mentioned place, kashundi runs deeper in our vein, and I have seen in my Bangal clan, how it had been used almost like a table salt for every other dishes. The daily saag bhaja or fried greens must always accompanied with a good dollop of kashundi on plate, so as the evening tea-time chops and cutlets. But sorshe baata maach, which uses fresh mustard paste was not quite that popular.
Some of the delectable fish dishes with sorshe baata / mustard paste are – our famous sorshe bhapa ilish / Hilsa in mustard sauce and sorshe narkel chingri / shrimps in mustard – coconut sauce (the use of mustard with coconut is distinctively very much East Bengal thing), the signature paturis in mustard base and parshe macher jhaal / mullet fish curry.
Even though it is not an everyday affair, we do prepare and enjoy the sorshe baata diye macher jhaal occasionally. Only difference is that, in our home when we use fresh mustard paste to cook the fish gravy, unlike others we do not club it with other ingredients like tomato or posto / poppy seed paste. And onion is strictly no-no, almost sacrilegious to use that with mustard paste. We love to enjoy the freshness, the distinct pungency of mustard paste, the unique flavour and sharp taste it imparts to the dish in its purest form.
Which fishes can be cooked with mustard paste?
Almost all kind of fishes can be cooked in mustard base but some of the most common one that goes really well are – rui / rohu fish, baata fish, bhetki / bekti (barramundi / Asian sea bass), Pabda (catfish) and small tilapia. Some of the uncommon choices would be Atlantic salmon and cod, both we had tried and liked it (second pic is of cod fish in mustard sauce).
How to make sorshe baata / fresh mustard paste ?
I use two varieties of mustard -yellow and black. Its more of yellow than black, because yellow is milder than the black and black has more pungency than the yellow one. So use your best judgement and decide upon the proportion that will suit your palate.
I always prefer to soak the mustard seeds in warm water before grinding it in a mixer. For best result and for a slightly coarse texture use a hand held stone grinder / silnora / silbatta . Some prefer smooth texture while some prefer slightly coarse texture of the mustard paste.
Mustard ferments very fast. So even in fridge it does not stay for long . Hence it is always better to use freshly prepared one for best taste and flavour.
How to get rid of the bitterness of the mustard ? Or why the mustard fish curry turn bitter?
This can be easily avoided if you use good blend of yellow mustard seeds and black mustard seeds. However, some love to use only black mustard seeds, the big one. Black mustard seeds are slightly bitter in taste and is more sharp and pungent than the yellow ones. So soak the black mustard seeds in warm water for around two hours and then try to strain out as much hull / skin of the seed before grinding it to a paste. That is the reason why it is always preferable to make mustard paste in hand mortar -pestle, it nicely separates the outer skin of the seed as you grind it.
If the mustard paste is too sharp for you or it is slightly bitter, then whip up the paste with little bit of plain yogurt. This will mellow the sharpness of the mustard.
Recipe for Bengali fish curry in mustard sauce with rohu fish –
Bengali fish curry in spicy mustard sauce
- 500 gm Fish (rohu or any other fish, cut into steaks or pieces)
- 4 tbsp Yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tbsp Black Mustard seeds
- 1 tsp Ginger paste
- 4 Green Chillies
- Turmeric powder as required
- 1 tbsp Nigella seeds / kalonji
- Mustard Oil as required
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Red chilli powder (optional)
Soak the mustard seeds in warm water for 2 hours. If using more black mustard seeds, then remove the hull or skin of the black mustard seeds as much as possible.
Grind the mustard seeds in grinder with 2 green chilli to a slightly coarse paste. Keep it aside.
Wash and clean the fish pieces. Rub enough salt and turmeric powder and leave aside for 15 minutes.
In a kadhai or flat bottom pan, add enough mustard oil require to fry the fishes.
Once the oil is smoking hot, slightly lower the heat and slide the fish pieces carefully in to the hot oil.
Fry the fish pieces both sides till golden brown.
Slot out the fish pieces onto a plate when done.
In the same pan / kadhai add more oil if requires. Temper the oil with nigella seeds and two green chillies cut from the middle.
To the mustard paste, add the ginger paste, salt and mix it properly.
Lower the heat and add the mustard paste into the hot oil. Be careful as mustard paste will splatter. I have used the entire mustard paste, but you can always use less as per your taste and tolerance level.
Add turmeric powder and red chilli powder and saute the mustard paste on low heat till the oil starts leaving. Sauteeing the mustard paste is important step.
Once the mustard paste is thickened slightly, add sugar. Sugar is very important here because sugar brings out the real flavour of mustard.
Add around one cup of warm water and bring it to boil.
Drop the fish pieces in the gravy, and let it simmer on low heat for 6-8 minutes.
Adjust the seasonings, switch off the heat. Serve the fish in mustard gravy after 10 minutes with plain steamed rice. The fish pieces will soak some of the gravy and will enhance the taste.
Ways to use fresh mustard paste in other recipes –
Try this authentic Bengali fish in mustard sauce / sorshe baata diye rui maach and let us know.
Enjoy and have a blessed day