That we dote on our fish is no secret to the world. But little do they know that we are equally obsessed about the non-edible parts of the fish as well…the head, tail, fins, roe. Well, I won’t call them non-edible because, hell yes, we do eat them! I gather it’s a common delicacy in the Southeast Asian countries as well. A few episodes back, Matt Preston literally went bonkers over contestant Emily’s Malaysian Fish Head Curry in Masterchef Australia.
There’s a humongous amount of things that you can make from a fish head. We Bongs use fish heads in Chochchori (a kind of mixed vegetable dish), we make Muri Ghonto (a rice and potato preparation) with it and then we use it in lentils to make this Maachher Matha diye Moong Dal. Now I don’t eat fish heads, but this dal is my absolute favourite. I generally shove aside the head bits and ladle out the pristine dal from the midst of it, that now is enriched with the flavour and aroma of the heads. Maachher Matha diye Dal is another huge hit at Bong weddings, not in the main ceremony but for the before and after meals. I am a sucker for North Indian dals, but trust me, I can never have enough of this one. Give me some rice with a bowl of this dal and a lime wedge and a couple of green chillies on the side, and I won’t ask for anything else!
Moong dal: 150 gm
Fish heads: roughly 500 gm (Head of one 2.5 kg Rohu fish)
Onion sliced: 1
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp + for smearing the fish heads
Bay leaf: 1
Cinnamon stick: 1
Green cardamoms: 4
Kashmiri dry red chilli: 1-2
Green chillies: 2 + 1
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Bhaja Masala: 1 tsp (you can find recipe in Bong Mom’s blog)
Salt, to taste
Sugar: 1.5 tbsp
Mustard Oil: 2 tbsp (or more if required)
1. In a deep-bottomed kadhai, dry roast the moong beans on medium high heat stirring constantly till golden. Don’t leave it for even a second as it may otherwise get burnt. Pour it back in a container and immediately soak in cool water. Keep for 30 min. Smear the fish heads with turmeric and salt and let it rest for 30 min.
2. In a pressure cooker, put the dal with just enough water to cover it, turmeric, salt and a green chilli (skip the chilli if you don’t want heat). Cook on high heat for 2 whistles. Lower the heat to medium and cook for a further one whistle. Turn of the gas and let the steam release on its own. Once the lid opens, check if the dal is cooked or not, add two cups of water and 2 more green chillies.
3. While the dal is pressure-cooking, take a non-stick pan and allow it to become smoking hot before you add the oil. Very carefully put the fish heads in the pan (preferably one at a time, if they are too big), cook for 3 minutes on each side or till cooked and golden. Drain on a kitchen towel. Once cool, crush into multiple pieces using a rolling pin.
4. In a kadhai, pour the oil that is left after frying the fish heads. Add more oil if required and heat up well. Now add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamoms and Kashmiri red chillies. Once it starts releasing aroma, add the onions and ginger and keep stirring constantly till the onion is golden-ish and translucent. Add the cumin powder and with very little water keep stirring the spice mix for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Now add the dal and simmer covered on low heat for 4-5 minutes. Add the fish heads a stir to blend them with the dal. If you want a thick-ish consistency (like I prefer), uncover, raise heat and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes.
6. While that is happening, check seasoning. If you need more salt, add it. Add sugar as well.
7. Just before taking it off the heat, sprinkle some bhaja masala. Serve hot with plain rice and a lime wedge and green chilli on the side.
Eat Like a Bong: Day 5