For Bengali’s the world over fish and rice is the staple, and no feast is complete without a fish delicacy. So imagine to my parents horror, as a kid I used to hate fish, and lunch time was a challenge whenever fish was made. The variety of fish available to choose and eat in Kolkata would gladden the heart of any fish loving Bengali, but I would curse the abundance of produce.
It’s only now grown up and faraway from Kolkata, that I have learnt to appreciate the cuisine and especially fish and the myriad ways my mother would make fish curry. Just a change in addition of vegetables or spices and voila a new fish curry recipe with the same fish. I doubt any other culture has so many ways of making the same fish as we Bengalis do; and I miss all of it in Mumbai. Although Mumbai has a huge Diaspora of Bengalis, the lack of good fish is a problem I have faced. I miss the big 7-8 kg rohu or bhetki (Indian Basa) that is usually available in Kolkata and I find that they are far tastier than the small 1-2 kg fish that we get in Mumbai. So recently found this online vendor of fish who delivers fresh bhetki fillet right at home, so no more trips to the fish market.
I usually make fish fry or fish cutlets with the Bhetki fillets, this time wanted to try something else, so thought of making Bhetki Paturi, which is basically fish wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. One of the most well known and loved Bengali dishes, it’s an evergreen and everyone’s favourite dish. I tried making it for the first time, and was wondering why I haven’t tried it before, so simple to make and so mouth watering that it will convert any non fish loving person.
Traditionally, it is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed; I have used banana leaves and instead made them in the oven. If you don’t have access to banana leaves, aluminium foil will do just fine; I ran out of banana leaf and used foil. But it does look far more delectable wrapped in a banana leaf, as good food is as much visual as much it titillates your palate.
3 tbsps mustard seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
7-8 green chillies
2-3 garlic cloves
Grated fresh coconut
500 Gms bhetki fillet
salt to taste
Start by cutting the fish into pieces, roughly 2.5”× 2.5”; coat the pieces with salt and turmeric and set aside. Then we need to make the mustard paste. Soak the poppy and mustard seeds in little water for about 30 minutes. Drain and make a paste in the blender along with about 4 green chillies and 2-3 garlic cloves, add about two teaspoons of water to the paste.
Once the paste is ready we add a pinch of turmeric, salt to taste and a tablespoon of mustard to it, your mustard mixture for fish is now ready.
Next we cut the banana leaves as per our fish to wrap them, it will be a good idea to warm them on low flame on the gas or put them in the oven for some time and wilt them so that they are easier to wrap, as they become softer.
Now to marinade the fish we take the leaf, smear the mustard paste on both sides generously, add grated coconut and sliced green chillies and wrap them, it will be a good idea to tie them up with a piece of string. Let the fish rest wrapped in banana leaves for about 30 to 45 minutes; you can pop them in the fridge.
Pre heat oven at 175C and then bake the fish for about 15 to 20 minutes. Unwrap the banana leaves for steaming delicious fish, always serve hot; best eaten with steamed rice.