Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tel Koi -- tale of fish


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 Oil 
Wash 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.


  1. Amar Sabche priyo Maach and one of my fav dish among fish dishes. :):)
    But tomader okhan kar koi maach ta dekhte ektu alada.. Tai na?
    Chennai te ei mach ta pawa jaena.. So I need to wait till I land up in Kol...

    1. Chennai is my karmabhoomi....been here from 1993...pls go to Porur dam r pase r market on Sunday morning by 8...u will get lovely Koi, Papda, Fholi, Mourala, Puti last but not least Rui n Katla...

  2. Ummm. Drooling,platter looks yum.

  3. amader ekahne koi maach frozen pawa jai...taste serokom bahlo hoina.Do you season with something special to get the flavor?

    1. It depends. Sometimes the fish is good like this one. Couple of times it has been bad too and then you can do nothing.

  4. Mouthwatering here, droolworthy dish.

  5. Sandeepa I had forgotten those terms :) I remember being asked once in NJ if I wanted Bengali Cut and I was so surprised!! We do not buy many fishes from the Bangladeshi stores (the nearest one taken over by a guy from middle east and the fishes are sliced by the Mexican guys - so I am not sure if those terms are valid here). Tel Koi is making me drool..My dida used to make the best tel koi and I do not remember the last time I had it or even made it.ebar baba thakte thakte koi maach khuchte hobe, even tho' he does not like fish. :) NJ te thakle ami ei shomoye tomar barite roj dhonna ditam.

  6. Sandeepa, The fish in ice blocks baffled me the first time I had set my foot in Europe. The first ever meal cooked by me was Koi kaalia with aalu fulkopi in Brussels, after buying that wonder of wonders from a Bangladeshi shop...called Indian shop generally. Hubby had already been there for 6 months to know the source points. That was a wonderful taste, I am yet to forget. In fact 10 yrs after that I bought Koi in Gurgaon for hefty sum to relive the taste....

  7. Sandeepa, I could write the first couple paragraphs and it would sound the same here too. I was equally surprised with the patla jhol. Tel koi koto din khai nei. Just delicious looking!

  8. We eat sweet water/fresh water fish when the seafood is unavailable. Back home,they sell fresh in bucket in fish market and cutting and cleaning are big hassle. I personally don't like the white fish (fillet) but now is better than nothing :) I like the way u fried the fish first and made the curry, that should give a crisp flavor.

  9. Koi fish is one of my favorite fish. And I love in in any format, nice recipe.

    Visit my blog @ Manidipa's Kitchen

  10. Sandeepa, ei shob ranna shotti barir kotha mone koriye dey..childhood days....
    Tumi bhat ta boshao....ami aschi....

  11. I will try those terms next time I am in the Bangladeshi store. All I say is - bhai jaan, and they do the needful. I have got Koi from there, but even when I fry it on high flame in an cast aluminum korai, the skin sometimes comes off. Which is very irritating.

    Ek baar when I was 10, aamaar golai koi maacher kaaNta pheshay chilo. But I never gave up on eating koi. Bhaat diye mekhe mekhe. Aaah.

  12. I love the way you build up the story in each post... it was like a déja vu - the same thing happens when my in-laws visit. Along with the 'Maach' I also try to make sure they get to read 'AnandoBazaar'- though late in the evenings with the daily afternoon flights from kolkata...

    We are also back to salmon and local fillets once parents go back home:)

  13. How have you been San? I buy tilapia and salmon fillets too...never tried frozen whole fish (except the shrimp-clam-mussels types) time. Some questions... does fillet of tilapia taste different from the whole one? doesn't the yogurt curdle when you boil the whole thing together? I don't cook fish a lot so I am clueless about such things.

    1. Well, the fillet tastes like umm "fillet" :) while the whole fish cut in pieces is more like the fish I am used to from India. Has bones though.

      I use yogurt in a lot of my gravies. The trick I have learned is when you add yogurt either lower the flame to minimum or remove the pan from heat. After you have mixed the yogurt with the masala etc. put the pan back on heat at low flame. Add water and only then increase the heat. It is the high heat that makes it curdle. Also some people say adding a little flour to yogurt prevents it from curdling. In my case the first method works always

    2. Ok, I got it! :)

      Yes, I do much the same....infact for my yogurt based gravies, I simmer till there is a boil at the edges and take it off the heat. Enjoy your weekend!

  14. Don't you just LOVE Bela De??? My very first source of inspiration when I started cooking, and my saviour from disasters that I created as a novice right after I started cooking.

    I have been following your blog for a few days now, and I love what you have here. Love Tel Koi :) This looks really yummy. Makes me want to sit at the table and make a go at it right away.....

    1. I like her book but the sketchy measurements would throw me off in those early days. Now I am fine :)

    2. I have a tattered version that my Mom bought in late 70s or early's condition is so woebegone that it's hard to even piece it together. That one has the measurements pat, down to every pinch and dash.

      Sandeepa, I love what you have here, and I nominated you for an award of Excellence in Storytelling at Foodstories. I have mentioned you in a post of mine, along with the details:

      Hope you can participate :)

  15. Sandeepadi, ami gota jeera, shukno lonka r ada eksathe bete mashala ta use korte pari ei recipe te?


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