Bengali Mustard Fish Curry

This post has been a loooooong time coming. Last week was totally full on with both my daughters now in school. There was a catch however, that being that Little Z was to be weaned on gradually with half days over the course of the week and a half, which mean’t that much of my existence was spent ferrying children in a car back and forth to school – six times per day for me to be precise, therefore allowing very little time to actually get on with anything productive.

At the weekend I threw myself into organsing an a friend’s baby shower so was baking and making in preparation for the event. The spread included: a Victoria sponge cake, flapjacks, egg mayo, smoked salmon with horseradish, cream cheese and cucumber finger sandwiches, rainbow coloured fruit sticks (got to keep it healthy!), a carrot cake and a few other sugary treats accompanied by big cups of tea and coffee, oh and not forgetting peach bellinis upon arrival.

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It’s now Tuesday and calm has reigned once more in my life as Little Z stays at school for her first full day. This now gives me the necessary breathing space to get this blog post out to you all.

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Mustard fish curry – Maach (fish) Jhol (gravy/curry), is probably THE most popular fish dish in Bengal. The Bengali diet includes a lot of fish and mustard oil/seeds/paste is as ubiquitous in Bengali cuisine as pepper is in the west. Traditionally the mustard paste for the curry is made by grinding brown mustard seeds on a ‘sheel nora’ or grinding stone that can be found in traditional Bengali kitchens. I learn’t this recipe however from my husband, Mr B, and my mother in-law who have converted to the quicker version of mixing some smooth Dijon mustard with some wholegrain mustard, which works superbly. Cheating? Well not really, just speeding up the process, which is always a bonus in our otherwise hectic lives.

This time I used sea bream, mainly because it is what I had in my freezer, but mackerel, tilapia, salmon or trout work equally well. Served with a bowl of rice it is perfect for a speedy week(end) night supper.

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Some recipes require that you rub turmeric and salt into the fish first and then deep frying them for a 2/3 minutes and then in a separate pan adding the mustard oil, nigella seeds and mustard paste followed by the fried fish. I have always tended to omit the first part, keeping the dish healthier, but by all means try both versions and see which you prefer. Similarly I often cook the dish with the fish whole, but head removed. However, you can also chop the fish into smaller pieces but do not fillet it as it will not work so well.

Bengali Mustard Fish Curry 

Serves 3 (if serving for 4 add one more fish and an extra chilli or two!)

3 sea bream/mackerel/tilapia/salmon/trout, head removed but kept whole

3 tbsp mustard oil

1 tsp nigella seeds

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

3 green chillies, halved (more if you prefer it hot hot)

1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp wholegrain mustard

pinch of salt

8 tbsp water

1. In a pan/wok/kadai heat up the mustard oil. When it is hot carefully add the nigella seeds, chilli powder and turmeric. Stir for a few seconds before adding both mustards. Stir well.

2. Add the chilli and then place in the fish using a spoon to cover the fish in the mustard juices. Add a pinch of salt and some water and place a lid on the pan so that the fish can steam. Keep the heat low so as not the burn the bottom of the pan. If it is drying out add a little more water or oil if need be. Spoon the juices over the fish from time to time.

3. The fish will be cooked within 10 minutes. Leave to rest. Scatter with chopped coriander before serving. To reheat, simply add a sprinkling of water and warm the pan.

Serve with rice.

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8 thoughts on “Bengali Mustard Fish Curry

  1. This sound both delicious and intriguingly offbeat. I was relieved in reading the recipe. At first I wondered, “What’s a mustard fish? I’ll never find one here.” Glad to read the ingredients. And not too complicated. Ken

    • Thank you. Yes the shower went well thank goodness ;o) As for the Mustard Fish Curry – it’s super easy and quick to prepare. Perfect if you have a busy life but want to eat some good home cooked food. Thanks for commenting. Best Torie

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