Cooking with me is not exactly a passion ; nor do I cook out of necessity . Mine are more forays into the kitchen on weekends to cook that something special or to toss up something for the children's dinner . With Ma cooking was an art and the kitchen her studio where she scaled great heights . A lot of imagination, love and devotion went into this daily chore . Whether it was toasting bread and slathering butter and marmalade or jam on it , or frying up luchis and alur chhenchki for breakfast or the ubiquitous maccher jhol ,everything tasted like manna from heaven . Much of it was comfort food , remembered now with a lot of tenderness and nostalgia .
So when I cook seriously like Ma , I pay a lot of attention to detail and I love to cook fish . I love the great ceremony of Bengali fish cooking .
First the washing of the fish , then the anointing with noon holud ( salt and turmeric), and setting aside while one organises the spices , cuts the vegetables which might go into it ,heats the mustard oil to smoking point and then lowers the fish gently into it .
While the ubiquitous maccher jhol or fish curry is a dish most Bengali families eat on a daily basis , the fish kaalia is something of a celebrity dish meant for special occasions . Here's how I make it
- Rui fish - 8 pieces preferably from a fish weighing around 2 kilos
- 2 medium sized Potatoes - halved around the middle
- Mustard oil
- Turmeric - 1 tsp
- Coriander ,chilli & Cumin powder - 1 tsp each
- Whole Garam masala - 2 sticks of cinnamon,three cloves, 2 small cardamoms
- 1 medium sized onion and an inch of ginger - ground to a paste
- 1 bay leaf
- Whole green chillies
- Ghee or clarified butter - 1 teaspoon
- Tomato puree 2 tsp
- After marinating the fish in a turmeric - salt mix , fry the pieces till brown in mustard oil
- Fry the potatoes and keep aside
- Discard the oil and pour in 2 tbsp of fresh mustard oil . Heat till smoking and put in the bay leaf, whole spice .
- Combine the onion-ginger paste with the dry spices and add with a couple of teaspoons of tomato puree . Cook on a low heat till the oil comes to the surface . At this stage add the fried potatoes with a cupful of water
- Cook till the potatoes are soft .
- Add the fish pieces and cover .Add salt and a pinch of sugar
- Since the fish has been fried over high heat , it is already cooked . Cooking it in the gravy only enables it to soak up the flavours of the spices .
- Before removing it from the heat add a teaspoon of ghee and serve with rice .