How To Make Bengali Mustard Fish In New York
Shorshe maach can be cooked with almost any kind of fish, even Hilsa*.
A Punjabi friend had once asked me to treat her to shorshe maach. That’s when I realised that I didn’t know how to prepare it. It always seemed that mother had been making it since time immemorial. My only contribution had been in ensuring that the last dollop of mustard gravy was lapped up with the last grain of rice. But being a Bengali and not being able to make mustard fish was nothing short of a sacrilege. It was a cardinal sin that had to be redeemed.
Even in the age of Google, my culinary education has been through remote assistance – the medium has been phone and the tutors have been my mother and grandmother. Strangely though, these same women deterred me from stepping into the kitchen during my teens. I would eventually be vanquished by the daily grinds of kitchen, admonished grandma in her habitual melodramatic fashion. And mother was only too happy to dish out my favourite fare while I was expected to focus on more ‘important’ things in life viz. studies and career. Little wonder therefore, when my first job dislodged me from the comforts of home, I was hopelessly dependent on my roommate for even a cup of tea! That’s when the remote coaching began.
Over the next few years, I came to possess a satisfactory collection of recipes in my arsenal, ranging from the garden-variety dal to the exotic kosha mangsho. However, for reasons unknown, I steered clear of fish; this remained an elusive world, mother being its indisputable empress. But when my friend inadvertently made me aware of my absurdity, I knew the time had come to shed that inhibition. Mother’s instructions were immaculate and the mustard fish that I came to learn, coupled with steaming white rice, made for a hearty meal.
A new challenge presented itself after I moved out of the country. Bereft of a mixer-grinder, the idea of coarsely ground mustard had started becoming elusive. Yellow bottles of Dijon mustard were the only prospects staring squarely in the face. It was at this time that I came across a post on shorshe salmon shared by KK in his blog Finelychopped here. My key takeaway was finding the right type of mustard paste in the foreign market. I had two considerations, firstly a paste that was coarse, preferably one in which the granules were visible and secondly, one that was parsimonious in other ingredients (water, vinegar, salt). This ensured a texture and quality that was likely to be a close match to the indigenous home-ground mustard.
My careful search for mustard led me to Maison Orphee’s Old-Fashioned Mustard. I’m sure any other mustard fish aspirant in any other land will have her own discovery. I used fresh Tilapia fillet from my neighbourhood supermarket though the outcome in salmon is also sure to be equally succulent. Whatever the means, when the end is something as delectable, it reaffirms the joys derived from the simple things in life.
Recipe for Shorshe Maach
3 or 4 Tilapia fillet, cut into halves giving 6-8 rectangular pieces (this is a freshwater fish)
2 tbsp mustard paste
1 tbsp fresh curd/unflavoured yoghurt
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp black cumin seeds for tempering
4 slit green chillies
2 tbsp mustard oil for frying for the quintessential taste / olive oil as a more healthy option
Salt as per taste
Note: If making the mustard paste at home, then grind together 2 tbsp of mustard seeds in a mixer grinder with 2 green chillies and the required amount of water.
1. Whisk together the mustard paste, yoghurt, turmeric, red chilli powder and a little salt.
2. Marinate the fish pieces in this mixture for half an hour. (Yoghurt adds a creamy texture to the gravy. Those who like the strong pungent taste of mustard can skip the yoghurt).
3. Heat oil in a pan and add the black cumin seeds. Let them splutter.
4. Add the marinated fish, green chillies, salt and ½ cup water. Cover and cook on low flame for 8-10 minutes
5. For that extra flavour, pour 1 tbsp of mustard oil over the fish at this stage. This is, however, completely optional.
6. Check and adjust salt and serve hot with steamed rice.
*Watch How to Make Doi Posto Shorshe Ilish here:
Ipshita is originally from Kolkata, has lived and worked in Delhi NCR and Mumbai, and currently resides in New Jersey. Though the world of numbers enables her to earn a living, it is the world of words that intrigues her. She loves writing about the places she travels to, the people she meets and the things she sees. A self-proclaimed food fanatic, she’s grown up on her mother’s and grandmother’s cooking. She now wishes to unravel that fascinating world of indigenous cooking, weaving a story or two around it as she goes along.