You know what really gets my goat? When I hear a lot of younger Bengalis these days defiantly declare a profuse dislike of fish. It is sadly a common complaint that plagues many of those in my generation. In case you haven’t figured out by now, I loove fish! As I’ve mentioned a few times before, it is the huge diversity of fish dishes that makes Bangladeshi food distinctly stand out from its South Asian counterparts.
Whilst I do enjoy cooking with and eating bigger fish such as ayr, or pabda, I have a special love for Bengali dishes using small fish. They have a very specific taste, much lighter than meatier fish and work well in curry bases with a spicy or sour undertones. The only downside to small fish is the time it takes to prepare the fish compared to the very quick cooking time. But when you taste the outcome, it is well worth the effort. In my opinion, and many other Bengalis who have a passion for their cuisine, this is the kind of flavourful traditional cooking that outshines most foods sold in Indian restaurants.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, frozen blocks of Bengali fish such as this chelapata are available in all sorts of places these days. As Bengalis are pretty much everywhere in the world these days, you can usually find a Bengali/South Asian specialist grocery stores in many cities in the UK. Many varitetites of other small fish such as Molia or Keski can be found in supermarkets in large cities like London and can be easily be substituted for Chelapatha.
To prepare the fish, you need to remove the head and the tail and make a small 45 degree cut from the head toward the stomach to remove any innards. After that, leave the fish to soak in salted water for about 10 minutes then wash well. Wash the fish by hand and gently clench the fish to help bring out any more impurities. Rinse the fish 3 or 4 more times until the water is clear.
Shatkhora, or hatkhora as us Sylheti Bengalis call it, is a type of citrus fruit found in Bangladesh and India. It is popularly used in Bangladeshi cooking in both meat and fish curries. Though a little hard to find fresh in the UK, frozen packets of the fruit are found in most Asian grocery stores and also in many supermarkets.
This recipe comes from my mother and uses no oil. YES, you heard correctly. A South Asian curry with no oil and lean protein, it really does exist.
- 1 block chelapatha, defrosted, cleaned and washed
- 1 medium onion, grated or pureed in a blender
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed/grated
- 1-2 cut slices of frozen shatkhora, chopped into small pieces
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 2 whole green chilli
- Handful chopped corriander
- In a pan, add the onion, garlic, salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Add enough water to cover the bottom 1-2 inches of the pot and so that the onion mixture has adequately dissolved into the water.
- Place the pan on a medium heat with lid on and allow the curry base to come to a rolling boil. Once boiling, lower heat slightly for 2-3 minutes and allow to simmer until the onion have blended into the sauce.
- Add in chopped shatkhora, cover and let it cook off for about 5 minutes on a medium heat.
- Uncover, and add in the fish. Stir to coat in the sauce. Cover and let it simmer for a further 5 to 10 minutes. You should wait for the water to come out of the fish and then to dry up.
- Using a standard coffee mug as a measure, add in 1 and a half cups of water. It should be just enough so that the fish is covered. Cover and let it simmer on a high heat until the curry comes to a boil. This should take 5 to 10 minutes.
- On the curry comes to a rolling boil, check the salt and season to taste. Add in 2 whole green chilli and scatter over the coriander. Cover and let it simmer on a low heat for a final 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with plain white rice.