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Friday, May 2, 2014

For Pabda

From the heart of mustard to the hands of a green chilly 


                                    For handling this fish you need delicacy or you will break her heart, her flesh and then her bones and you will have in hand fish gravy filled with broken hearts n bones. Even if that happens that doesn’t mean disaster for the taste will still be the same, only the texture will be different. So how come such a delicate fish be safe with hot chilies n pungent mustard, how come the flavor of the delicate fish make friends with fiery green chilies and hot yellow mustard?-the answer is unknown.

                                                                              As you are looking at the pictures of this delicate fish you may or may not have noticed something, that thing which makes it different from most fishes- that this fish doesn’t have any fish scales. With the absence of the fish scales it becomes an easy job for even a novice to handle this but then please be delicate with her, being a bull in the china shop will not help. This fish is soft n delicate in terms of  when you try to fry this fish it tends to break apart easily because of the softness of her flesh. Now scientifically this fish is known as Ompok Pabo, while in English we will know the fish as Pabo catfish or Pabda catfish.

                                                                                                                                         In terms of the flavor it has a subtle flavor which becomes fragrant when cooked and naturally it has slightly as if salty flavor, so going by that the most popular preparation of this fish in the regions of Bengal; tends to be salty in its basic taste spectrum. Some very traditional and popular preparations are ”Pabda  Macher Jhal”, which translated will mean the fish prepared in a gravy flavored with mustard paste and green chili paste , the oil being mustard oil, the other will be “Pabda Macher Jhol” which is the fish being stewed with a much lighter gravy infused with the flavors of cumin or nigella seeds or mustard seeds and tomatoes, onions, ginger or garlic of both at times and fresh coriander leaves. Now traditionally both of these fish preparations are eaten with white rice, it can be white basmati rice or the par-boiled rice “siddha” or sun dried rice “Aatap”.

                                                                                                                                                    Now for this recipe I am going parallel with the traditional recipe, the crucial part comes when frying the fish where too much handling the fish in the pan will make it go in pieces plus if the pan is not properly heated, if the oil is not hot or the fish is cold…anyone of this can lead to it. But then don’t panic at all if this happens, you will still be able to enjoy the wonderful flavors of this recipe, and if somehow the fishes are intact in one piece…yahoo…it is a good feeling. So I will tell you some stuffs that might help you…if the fish you are using are fresh which means that they are not frozen, then chances are high that your fish will not break into pieces easily, if the fish has been frozen, bring it to room temperature before it hits the pan, for both the cases dry them  before they go into the pan, as for the pan, first heat the pan without the oil until the pan is fairly heated, then add the oil and wait for the oil to be pretty hot, also before adding the fishes in the oil in the pan we can coat the fishes with a little oil, though it Is not necessary. Anyways I will tell you about the recipe now. I really hope you enjoy making and eating this fish in gravy. Bon appétit!

                                                                                                                          Oh I know I am writing after almost a month which is a delay. Did you miss me?

          For the Recipe:

6 medium size Pabda fish
1 ½ -2 tbsp mustard seed paste
1 tsp of whole mustard seed
1 small clove of garlic, crushed to a paste
1 green chili crushed into a paste
1 tsp of turmeric powder
½-1 tsp of red chili powder
1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
1½ tbsp of soy sauce
2 tbsp of chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 or 2 fresh green chilies slit length ways
½ tsp of coriander powder
½ cup of mustard oil
Salt to taste
A small pinch of sugar
1 ½ cups -water                                                       


1.       Begin by making the mustard seed paste, so in heavy mortal n pestle or in a stone grinder or in blender, crush the mustard seeds with a little water until they are all smashed and turned into a paste. Next dilute that paste with a little water and pass it through a sieve so that we get a smooth texture and also the outer husks of the seeds which are still there are filtered out. Next make a paste of the green chili and the garlic.

2.       Let’s handle the fish now, so dry the fish and then sprinkle ½ tsp of turmeric powder over them and using your hands make sure that all the fishes are lightly coated in the turmeric, give them 5 minutes. Begin by heating the pan in a medium flame, when the pan is quite hot, add the mustard oil ( add half if frying 3 fishes in the first batch), let the oil come to a smoking point then reduce the flame, now sprinkle a little oil over the fishes, coat them and then place them carefully in the hot pan. They will start to sizzle, increase the flame to medium high and give about 4-6 minutes on each side. Don’t be tempted to move the fish in the pan with your spatula…this is what will break the fishes easily, if you feel the heat is getting a bit too high, lower it. After about 5 minutes check once with a spoon, tilt the fish carefully in the pan, see if it is coming out easily and if they have browned on that side, if yes flip them over. So when both the sides are done, take them out in a plate.

3.       In the same pan and in the same oil add the whole mustard seeds, let them pop, reduce the flame now, while the flame is at low add the crushed garlic and green chili paste, mix the turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder with 1 tbsp of water and add them to the pan. Give them 2 minutes, then add half of the chopped coriander leaves, saute for a minute, then add half of the mustard paste solution, mix everything well then add the rest half of mustard paste solution, let the flame be medium now and give it about 5-7 minutes stirring them in between. After about 6-7 minutes you will see the oil is leaving the sides of the paste in the pan, increase the flame to high now, add salt and then add the Worcestershire sauce while the pan is hot, then reduce the flame and add the soy sauce. Check to see if the seasoning is right; adjust n add a little pinch of sugar.

4.       Now add 1 ½  cup of water, add the fishes with all their oil in the pan, make sure that the fishes are almost submerged in the liquid, then cover the pan and let it simmer gently for 10 minutes, flip the fishes  over in between,  after 10 minutes the gravy will thicken a bit. We are almost ready, switch off the flame and sprinkle chopped coriander leaves and 2 half-slit green chili and cover. Leave it for 5 minutes and we are ready. White rice goes just great with this recipe, so go get it.

                                    May the delicacy of the fish reach to all of us ;)

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