Shutki: the notorious dish of the Bengal. A rich and pungent stock is made using dried fish which is then used to flavour a fish curry using a variety of vegetables. In this recipe I used eddo (mukki) and the shoots of the eddo plant (lota). As there is no oil in this curry, it is not as heavy as other Bangladeshi dishes, and the addition of the famous Bengali Naga chilli provides a unique fragrance and punch of heat. Naga in English, is known as the Ghost Pepper, apparently the hottest pepper in the world! For those who love this dish, there is nothing that comes close to it and thankfully for you guys, I just so happen to one of those people.
Varieties of dried fish can be found in many different world cuisines from Scandanavia to the Caribbean. Even for the non Bengalis, if you’re a fan of smoked fish (I personally think shutki tastes much nicer than that!) then you may be a fan of shutki.
Historically, dried fish was used as a way to preserve large quantities of fish. I recently watched some amazing footage from Bangladesh where villagers had waded into a river up to their calves and were literally picking up hundreds of fish with their bare hands. In a poor country, gathering vast amounts of a good source of protein could sustain a family for months, so it would make sense to dry the reserves rather than let it go to waste. Surprisingly, there is a lot of a cultural significance around this dish and I think even if a Bengali may not necessarily like this dish themselves, it is good preservation of heritage to at least know how to prepare it.
Shutki is probably easier to make than most curries. My mother’s method is essentially a one pot recipe. You place all your produce and spices in a pot, strain over the freshly brewed dried fish stock and add some more water if neccessary and leave it to simmer gently for 30 minutes 45 minutes. Shutki is usually associated with lots of chilli, with Naga chilli often added to the curry. Some Bangladeshis will deliberately try to make their shutki as spicy as possible however I am not so brave. If you can’t quite handle a lot of spice, you can always omit the Naga and add only chilli powder, perhaps with some whole green chilli.
In the last few years, there has been a rise of chilli festivals and “chilli heads” in the UK. I would definitely challenge self confessed chilli heads to try a home made shutki curry!
Hutki is available in a lot of Bangladeshi food stores. If you can’t find the dried version, guess what? You can buy a paste version in a jar here. And whilst there’s nothing quite like the aroma of fresh Naga Chilli, you can also by its English name Ghost Pepper on many online sites like Amazon.
The great thing about shutki also is that you can use any sort of vegetables. In this recipes I used eddo (mukki) and the shoots from the eddo root (lota) and you can buy frozen packets of these vegetables from Brands such as Ibco in Asian food stores and a lot of larger supermarkets such as Tesco. I love to also use the seeds from jackfruit (khatal bisi). But we have also made it many times using potatoes with spinach, or pumpkin/squash, just give it a go at least once!
- 1 packet of frozen lota/eddo shoot (approx 400g)
- 150g mukki/eddo, if not using frozen packet version, peeled and boiled for about 10 minutes until slightly softened.
- 1 piece of mirga fish (or any firm white fish)
- 5 pieces of a small fish hidol hutki
- Half a medium onion, grated
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 - 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 Naga chilli, chopped finely
- Salt to season
- Descale the mirga fish, wash, cut into chunks and soak in salted water.
- Descale the dried hutki fish and wash in water to remove impurities.
- Place the dried hutki in a pot with a cup to two cups of water and let it simmer to a boil for about 5-10 minutes. The longer you leave it, the stronger the flavour will be.
- Meanwhile, boil the lota in a separate pot for just under 5 minutes so they have softened slightly. This is an additional step if using frozen lota, but it speeds up cooking and makes lota softer.
- In a large pot add in the lota, mukki, mirga fish, grated onion and garlic. Add 1tsp salt a teaspoon, the chilli powder and turmeric.
- Strain the dried hutki stock over the lotha. If necessary, top up the pot with enough water so that all the vegetables are covered.
- Cook on a medium to high heat for 35 to 45 minutes. After about 20 minutes of cooking, add naga chilli to the pot and then cover and leave the curry to cook for remaining 20 minutes. Ensure the lota and mukki are soft before removing from the heat.
- Season with salt to taste.
- Remove from heat and serve with plain rice.