What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Bengal? No, don’t kid me with answers like Howrah Bridge or Hoogly bridge. Not even Eden Gardens or Victoria Memorial. Buses, black-n-yellow taxis and hand-pulled rickshaws, you say? Well may be. But I’m sure that one thing which tops your list is fish. Yes, Rui, Katla, Tyangra, Chingri, Parshe, Paabda, Maagur, Chitol, Ilish, Shutki…we have them in abundance. Bongs eat fish like there’s no tomorrow, mostly river-water fish because of proximity to the Ganges. We’ve been the subject of amazement as well as of ridicule at our fish-eating abilities. People gape at awe when we masterfully dig out the intricate bones from an ilish (hilsa) to savour its worth. And what more? We are even known for chomping away the entire fish — head, tail included!
Needless to say, when we have weddings fish items galore in the menu. You cannot NOT have fish in every occasion. Society will castigate you if you don’t. A Bong biyer menu usually starts with Luchi, Chholar Dal and Alu Dum..and then meanders into a variety of fishy affairs. When I was a kid, the hottest item on the menu was fish fry. People used to pounce on those like eccentrics…so much so that there would be fish-fry-eating competitions as well. Then came the era of Fish Batter Fry (mostly pronounced as butter fry by caterers). That too passed. Now we have the new and improved age of Baked Bhetki, Fish Tandoori, Fish Florentine and the works. But one thing that has never gone out of fashion and hopefully never will is the Rui Maachher Kaliya. Thick pieces of rohu neatly studded on a bed of rich red gravy, this is one thing that still makes me salivate.
A biye bari (wedding reception) is not complete without the quintessential Rui Maachher Kaliya. So how can a Bong food series be complete without that, huh? I have given it the fancy name of Rui Maachher Nawabi Kaliya because it’s not just a thick gravy made out of onions and tomatoes (which go into making a normal kaliya). It has the richness imparted by cashews and raisins that is definitely fit for the Nawabs. But really, what’s in a name? It all lies in the dish…err…fish!
Rohu/Katla/Carp fish, cut into pieces: 6-7
Onions, sliced finely: 1.5
Garlic paste: 1 tbsp
Ginger paste: 1 tbsp
Green chillies: 3-4
Cashew nuts: 1/4 cup
Raisins: 1/4 cup
Potato, cut into wedges and parboiled: 2
Tomato, pureed: 1
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp + for marinading fish and potatoes
Kashmiri red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Yoghurt: 2-3 tbsp
Bay leaf: 1
Cinnamon: 1 stick
Green cardamoms: 4
Garam masala powder: 3/4 tsp
Mustard oil: 2 tbsp + for frying fish, onions and potatoes
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1. First, you need to do the prep. In a bowl of water, soak the cashews and raisins and set aside for 30 minutes. Smear the parboiled potatoes with a little turmeric ans salt and let it sit for 20 minutes.
2. Heat oil a frying pan and add the onion slices. Fry on medium heat till golden brown. Drain and let cool. After it has cooled down, in a blender make a paste of the fried onions, garlic, ginger and the cashews and raisins.
3. In the same pan add more oil if required and lightly fry the potato wedges till golden brown and cooked through.
4. Take another non-stick pan and allow it too become smokey hot. Add oil and the fish pieces one by one. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side till golden and cooked through. Drain and set aside.
5. Now that the mise en place is done (oh yes, I know my Masterchef-y fancy terms), get ready to make the curry. In the same oil that you fried the fish (add more oil if necessary), add bay leaf, cardamoms, cinnamon and cloves and stir them for 45 seconds till they release aroma. Now add a tbsp of sugar and then the onion paste and keep stirring on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes. The caramelised sugar will give a richer colour to the gravy
6. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook for 2 more minutes. Now mix the turmeric, red chilli powder, cumin and coriander powder with 2-3 tbsp of yoghurt and add to the pan. Check seasoning and add salt. Keep stirring continuously till the spices lose their raw smell and oil is released. Add a cup of warm water and let it simmer. (Don’t add too much water because it’s supposed to be a rich, thick gravy)
7. Now add the fried pieces of fish and potatoes in the gravy, cover it and gently simmer for 5-8 minutes more. Uncover and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Check gravy consistency and seasoning.
8. As a final touch, sprinkle the garam masala powder and gently stir once so as to not break the fish pieces. Serve hot with plain rice or holud/pea pulao.
Eat Like a Bong: Day 3