When the parents are here we eat a lot of fish. Almost everyday.
Mostly it is the sweet water familiar fish from back home which we get from our Bangladeshi grocers. Rui, Ilish, Koi, Pabda. The fish is rock solid, frozen and 12 years back I would have never believed it tastes nice in a halka jhol. If you are unsure about such stuff I would suggest you do your own evaluations and not make it a staple diet. My Indian doctor had suggested I fry it at high temperature before proceeding with the gravy. I guess she had meant the fish should be fully cooked which I do.
The fish feeds my nostalgia perfectly and makes my Mother think a six month stay in the US is not exactly same as living in Mars. At least "maach paoa jaay". So a day before the flight lands and a couple of times in between we make our trips to the Fish Store. Having chosen the huge 7 lb fish we ask it to be cut. "Bengali Cut" we tell or "Double Bengali Cut" on days we are being thrifty. Believe me such terms do exist. The dull looking metallic blades starts off with a screeching sound chopping off perfect heart shaped pieces of fish. That sound makes me very queasy and I cover my ears. I try to muffle the sound; titillating my mind with images of an oil slick rui kalia and rice instead.
At other times we buy our fish from the Asian Stores; the one with the aquariums and strange fish names. Bass, Carp, Trout, Smelt, Whiting, Tilapia -- Tilapia the familiar one -- the one Baba would actually ignore in the bustling fish markets back home and the one which looks a very distant cousin of Tilapia from those days. Here no one understands "Bengali Cut". I choose a fish and then in extremely ridiculous sign language tell the fish monger to cut the fish in steak pieces , an inch or more thick. "Wanna head?", he asks in passable English. I nod vigorously. My parents are happy with this fish too. They like the Bass, the Rainbow Trout, the Tilapia. The Buffalo Carp is almost like a Katla, my friend says.
Once my parents have gone back to their own surround where they can buy fresh fish everyday and watch Star Jalsa, my daughters and husband revert back in auto-pilot to filet of Tilapia and Salmon from the American Superstores. None of them care for the fish my parents and I had happily devoured. A name dropping of Rui, Ilish or Koi does not light up their eyes or palate. I try to live in the past waiting for next year when I can utter phrases like "Double Bengali Cut" without flinching a single eye lash.
This time when my Ma was here, which is around February, we got Koi maach. Not the ornamental "Koi" that you would keep as a pet and call "Hey Fishy Fishy". Oh and I must tell you when I first saw a Koi pond in one of the nurseries here I was naively happy thinking that they raise our dear old Koi maach.
The Koi I am talking about is also known as climbing perch and belongs to a family of carps.It is a sturdy little fella and can live without water for quiet a few hours. I am usually pretty scared of Koi with its hook like sharp bone and have cooked it only a couple of times. The Koi in packets that I get here is fully cleaned and that gives me much confidence. I made a Tel Koi this time and though Ma was here I picked the recipe from Bela De's Bengali cookbook and cooked it myself. It was pretty good. I repeated a similar curry with a fish called whiting later and with enough Mustard Oil that tasted good too.
Honestly I am confused. Is it the fish or a surfeit of Mustard Oil that I fell in love with in this dish? Guess one complemented the other.
Tel Koi -- Koi Fish in Mustard OilWash and clean koi maach(about 4 small ones). This can get tricky and I suggest you ask the fish seller to do the bulk of this so that all you need to do at home is give a good rinse.
Rub the fish with salt and turmeric powder and keep aside for 20 mins.
Heat enough Mustard oil for frying the fish in a kadhai. Fry the fish till it is golden brown on both sides. remove and keep aside.
Now temper the oil with two Bay leaves and 3 slit green chili.
Make a wet paste with
1/2 tsp of turmeric Powder
1 tsp of fresh ginger paste
1/2 tsp of red chili powder
Add this to the fry pan and saute at low heat till oil seeps out of the masala.
Now remove the pan from heat and add 2 tbsp of yogurt (the yogurt should not be lumpy and beat with a fork before adding). Mix well with the masala.
After a minute put the pan back on low heat and cook for a minute.
Add a cup of water, 3 more green chili slit through, salt to taste and let the gravy simmer to a boil.
Once the gravy is boiling add the fish pieces. Cook till you see the oil surfacing. Drizzle a little mustard oil on top and serve with white rice.