The word "paaturi" comes from the Bangla word "paata" or leaf . That said, it becomes crystal clear that "Maacher Paturi" or Fish Paturi is a preparation where the fish is cooked in some sort of a leaf.
It being a Bengali recipe. it also becomes more than crystal clear that the said fish has been marinated in a sharp, pungent mustard-y paste of shorshe bata and drizzled with mustard oil. Okay, apparently there is a non-Ghoti version where the fish is wrapped in other spice pastes, not necessarily mustard but I have not tried that.
Once these two bases have been covered you are free to "go as you like" on Maachher paturi.
More than 20-25 years ago,
1. The maacher paturi that I would eat would always be prepared by my Dida.
2. The fish would always be Ilish.
3. The leaf would always be Banana. Some homes do their paturi in gourd leaves like Lau Pata and they taste very good too.
Kolapata was easily available, an arm's length away, growing in perfect neglect amongst the jackfruit and pampered mangoes, making it the leaf of choice. Dida would dab the fresh Ilish pieces with shorshe bata and kaancha shorsher tel, throw in a few green chillies and wrap them up in cut rectangular pieces of the Banana leaf. With an expert hand she then neatly tied the fish parcels with twine, an act which I looked at with much wonder. Not being a very dexterous kind myself, I found the whole "tying with twine" part a very complex act and based on that memory of neat parcels alone, I labeled paturi as a dish difficult to concoct.
Once the parcels were ready, Dida would tuck them into the steaming rice, that was cooking in a large pot on the coal stove. This tucking would happen towards the very end of the rice cooking and the latent heat from the hot rice would steam the fish in their banana leaf parcels. When those leafy envelopes were opened to reveal the mustardy fish, the fragrance was ethereal. Have you ever taken a strong whiff of banana leaf that has been warmed with steaming rice and then spiked with aroma of shorsher tel and Ilish ? It is hard to describe. Just like it is hard to explain the fragrance of tea in earthen kulhars or the perfume of yellow stalked sheuli that has touched the wet earth on autumn mornings.
Some days Dida would also tuck those leafy fish parcels in the dying embers of the unoon or coal stove. The fish cooked slowly, soaking up the flickering heat and smoke, while Dida cleaned up the kitchen, took a shower and offered white balls of nokuldana to her Gopal. That Paaturi tasted a little different from the one cooked in steaming rice. Here the kolapata was lightly charred and had a smoky fragrance where in the other the flavor was more clean and dominated with the fragrance of rice.
20 plus years later, the paturi that I make has the new woman's twist on it. The fragrance is not exactly as it would be in Dida's kitchen.
1. The Banana leaf is bought frozen, in exchange of several dollars from an Asian Store.
2. The fish is not always Ilish and fillet of fish like Swai, Salmon and Tilapia are abundantly used.
3. Instead of tucking the fish parcels in a pot of steaming rice or in dying embers, I just put them in the oven.
4. And oh, I never use twine to tie them up. I use toothpicks to secure the packets and heave a sigh of relief.
But the taste is pretty close. The fish cooked in the banana leaf, is delicate and flavorful, the mustard paste is just as sharp and pungent, the fragrance of the banana leaf as ethereal.
Some things never change.
You can also steam them in a steamer like this or do them over a covered griddle on the stove. But I almost always do it in the oven, because that way I can forget about them while they cook on timer and go about my life of getting homework done, folding the laundry and prepping for next day's lunch.
When it is dinner time, "ting-ting" there is delicious paturi to be had. Amazingly I had blogged about a Thai Fish wrapped in Banana leaves a couple of months ago and given a choice between the Bengali fish paturi and Thai fish in banana leaf, it is hard for us to choose. We love both equally.
Maachher Paturi -- Fish in mustard paste cooked in banana leaf
Clean the fish and get it ready. If you are using fish fillet cut each fillet in about 3"x 3" pieceI started with 2 fillet of swai, each cut in 3.
Make homemade Kashundi. The best option and that Kashundi will serve many purpose.
If you are reluctant to do so make Mustard Paste as follows:
Soak 3 tbsp of Mustard seeds + 1 tsp Poppy seeds in water for 20 minutes
Drain and put in a blender jar along with 4-5 hot green chillies.
With a splash of water make a thick paste.
Now if I am using fish other than Ilish/Hilsa, I also add 2 cloves of garlic to the blender jar and make a garlicky-mustard paste
In a bowl, pour the
1 tbsp Mustard oil
salt to taste
pinch of turmeric powder
Mix and make a smooth paste.
Variations: Sometimes with mild fish that does not have much flavor of its own like Swai etc., I add some more things to the mustard paste. Like I add couple of tablespoons of dhonepata chaatni(coriander chutney) to the mustard paste and then use it as the marinade. Try it. Mustard with fresh coriander adds a beautiful layer of flavor.
If you have bought frozen banana leaves, defrost them first by keeping them out at room temperature. Then cut them in rectangles of 6" x 6" or your preferred size. Wash each piece. Dry. Keep aside.
Now I buy frozen banana leaves which are already wilted and perfect for wrapping.But if you have fresh banana leaves, you need to prep them for wrapping. First cut off the central thick rib and trim the edges. Then cut them in preferred size. To make them flexible you need to wilt them. For that pop them in the oven at 200F for 5-8 minutes or warm them over very low flame of your stove/gas range. Be careful that you do not char or burn them in the process.
To marinade the fish, you can either use your home-made Kashundi or Mustard paste.
Put the fish fillet on the banana leaf.
Rub with sprinkle of salt (mustard paste already has salt so very little on fish) and smear generously with the mustard paste.
Add few drops of mustard oil.
Garnish with a tbsp of grated coconut and slit and chopped green chilli. If using frozen grated coconut , defrost it before using.
Wrap the banana leaf to make a parcel as shown. Secure the loose ends with a toothpick.
Now usually I let these parcels rest for about 30 minutes before popping them in the oven. For a big party, I make the parcels a day ahead and refrigerate(NOT freezer). And then just an hour before the meal, I take them out and let them sit at the counter. I put them in the oven 25-30 minutes before the meal is to be served. That way you get fresh steaming paaturi with minimal effort on party day.
Put the packets on a oven proof tray. Pre-heat oven to 350F. Bake these fish parcels for 20-25 minutes until you see the banana leaf charring slightly around the edges.
I serve the parcels individually along with steaming white rice.