Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Rituparna Moitra's Chitol Maach er Muithya

A few weeks back I was asking my readers for their favorite Bengali Recipe with the letter "C", as a part of the crowd-sourced "A-Z of Bengali Cuisine" that I am trying to do. Of the various ones that came up, one was Chitol Maacher Muithya.

Now growing in a Ghoti family, Chitol Muithya was not a dish I had heard of in the entire course of my childhood. Chitol Maach( also known as Clown Knife fish, Google tells me) was my Mother's favorite fish and she loved this beautiful oily fish in a mustard gravy made with  a certain cut of the fish called "peti". However she never ever cooked or even mentioned a Muithya.

I do not remember how or when or why I first heard of Muitha. But when my cousin sister got married to a "Bangal" family and her brand new mother-in-law cooked a chitol muitha for us, I was in love with this new dish. The steamed and fried balls of the minced chitol fish in a spicy gravy took my heart. It was very close to the fish koftas my Mother made but not quiet.

It is apparently more of a "Bangal" (Bengalis from East Bengal) specialty than Ghoti(Bengalis originally from West Bengal). The bony part of the chitol fish, the "gaada", which is not as coveted in gravy as the "peti" is used to make these steamed and fried fish dumplings. The name "Muithya" probably comes from "Mutho" or "Muthi", a Bengali word for fistful and refers to the fact the fish meat is to be taken in the palm of one's hands and shaped into a ball.

In spite of my severe longing for the muitha, my Mother never made this dish at home. She dismissed the whole process of cleaning the chitol of flesh and bones as "too much work".I had it a couple more times when my sister's Ma-in-law made it and always had a fondness for this dish.

Surprisingly, like my Mother, I never attempted to make this dish. Too difficult, I dismissed. So, when Chitol Maacher Muithya came up as one of the favorites in the category "C", I decided to ask my readers to share their recipe. It is a precious Bengali recipe, too precious to be lost, even if it is not my Mother's or my grandmother's.

When Rituparna Moitra, a reader of my blog, kindly sent me the detailed recipe with pictures, I had all intentions to cook it. But then, I realized I wouldn't be doing it anytime soon. So with her permission, I am sharing this treasured recipe from her and her family's kitchen, exactly as she narrates it. I could not have done this dish justice and so over to Rituporna for Chitol Maacher Muithya in her own words.

Thank you much dear Rituporna. All Pictures and Writing in this recipe are copyright of Rituporna Moitra. Please give her a warm welcome.

Chitol Maach er Muithya | Fish Dumplings
Rituparna Moitra's Chitol Maach er Muitha

Rituparna says...

 "I am currently residing in Arlington, VA. I completed my grad school in Boston & doing my post doc research at FDA for the past one year.

Cooking is my passion & as much as I try out new cuisines & recipes, I regularly cook our 'traditional' Bengali recipes. Most of these recipes are recreations based on memories of taste bud from the food my mom would make for us.

Chitol er muithya is one such recipe which I remember Ma making once in my teenage years to serve for some special house guests.

She would scrape the flesh off the chitol "gaada" ( I always confuse between peti & gaada) with a spoon by moving the spoon against to the direction of the flesh to minimize bones coming out. Then she would spend hours removing the fine bones to make chitol keema , the main ingredient for this recipe.
In this world of globalization, we in the US get a lot of things 'export quality' & catered to our needs. One such being packaged chitol keema in frozen section of Bangladeshi stores. A friend once got 'blackfish paste' from an Asian store in a similar wrapping for me to make muithya but the end result was not good.

Here is what I do with the chitol keema. I am bad with quantifying ingredients but will try to include details as much as possible."

Prep Work

Buy a packet of Chitol Keema from the fishmonger(in India) or Bangladeshi grocer(in USA). If  you cannot get the minced de-boned fish, you are in deep waters as you have to carefully remove the fish bones to get the chitol keema.

Defrost the fish keema completely in the refrigerator overnight before starting.

For each pack of chitol keema I use 1 small to medium size potato for making the muithya. Boil the potato and cool down before adding it to the keema.

In the meanwhile put water in a large pot on high heat. Add in half a teaspoon of salt, 1 bay leaf, 1 cinnamon stick & 1 cracked open brown cardamom. Add a couple of drops of vegetable / canola oil and whisk the water before bringing it to a roaring boil.

Preparing the Muithya:

After a quick rinse of the chitol keema , press it against the palms of your hand to remove as much water as possible (water is what results in disastrous muithya's!)

Put the fish keema in a bowl. Add the boiled potato.

Now add some salt, pinch of red chili powder, half a tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste (to remove the fish odor) and a pinch of dry roasted freshly grounded gorom masala ( cloves, cinnamon, green and brown cardamon)

Mash the fish and potatoes gently. The trick to get the muithya intact is to mash the keema and boiled potato as little as possible.If its too mushy it disintegrates in boiling water.

Now wet your hands and take a tennis ball shaped mixture of keema-aloo on your palm. Gently rolling between the palm of your hands shape it into an oval..Using water in your palms gives a smooth shape.

Drop this oval ball in the water that is now boiling merrily. Repeat for all. I usually lower the flame to medium high at this point so that the boil does not break the raw keema in the beginning.
Note: Do not overcrowd the pot as that causes the muithya to break. Too much of potato/water /mushy consistency of the mixture also results in the same.

Ideally in 5-10 minutes you would see the muithya change color from pink to whitish and float in your pot. Gently turn the muithya with a slotted spoon to cook the other side for another 5 minutes. When done you will feel a firm to spongy touch on the muithya (Similar to when making Steak )
Remove the muithya's one at a time using a slotted spoon. Remember being gentle is all about getting it right.

Let the muithya cool completely before starting the next stage. I usually refrigerate mine and that helps in maintaining its texture.

Make the muithya gravy:

Chop potatoes in quarters. Each muithya too gets cut into 4 pieces, once horizontally & next vertically to get similar dalna like pieces.

Sprinkle them with turmeric powder, salt and a pinch of red chili powder. Heat Mustard oil in a flat non-stick pan. Bring it to a smoking hot point and arrange the muithya quarters in a single later. Fry till golden brown. Turning it frequently causes it to break so avoid that. When fried on both sides, remove gently and soak off the excess oil in a paper towel. Fry the cubed potatoes in same way.

In between make a paste of 1 medium red onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic and an inch of ginger. This quantity is based on 1 chitol keema packet recipe.

To make the gravy, temper the hot oil with
1 bay leaf,
1 Cinnamon stick,
1 big brown cardomom,
2-3 each of dry red chilies,
2-3 fresh green chilies slit open,
2-3 cloves
and 2-3 green cardamom.
I use the same leftover oil from frying the muithya, you may add more oil (white oil this time) if needed. My mom would bruise the dry maslas roughly with a pestle to release the flavor in oil. Let these simper in oil for a minute.

When the whole spices crackle, add in a pinch of sugar and caramelize.

Then add 1/2tsp of shahi jeera and let it crackle.

Add in the onion-ginger-garlic paste and cook on medium to high heat stirring constantly. Add in the turmeric now and cook completely to remove the raw smell.

Once the onion is releasing oil, add in a paste of
1 tbsp of cumin& coriander powder and 1/2 tsp red chili powder mixed in little water .
Stir constantly.

Next add in one juicy ripe tomato pureed. I add in a drop of ketchup with it with the extra zing and color.

After all the masalas are cooked well and you see oil being released in pan, add about 2 cups of luke warm water and bring to a roaring boil.

I adjust the salt at the very end as the muithya and potatoes have salt while frying which gets incorporated in the gravy. Once the 'jhol' is boiling, add the potato first and after couple of minutes the fried muithya cubes. As before minimize stirring after muithya is added. Do a taste test for seasoning now. The muithya absorbs the gravy so the initial gravy to start with is made with that in mind.

Finish off with a pinch of sugar (my mom didn't I do), a tsp of wet grind garam masla would be ideal though I use the dry powder and a drop of ghee (I dont remember if my mom used Ghee or not). Throw in a couple of more chilies now for the fragrance.

Turn off the heat and let the muithya gravy stand covered for another 20 minutes or so till all the flavors marry well.
Serve with steamed rice. I have tried it with misti polao and that works well too.

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  1. Ishhh etodin baade muithya dekhe jibhe jol ese gelo....r thakumar katha bhebe chokhe jol. I believe my Thakuma made the best muithya, my mother never dared to make it, and I tried unsuccessfully thrice....Thank you for this wonderful recipe.

  2. What a wonferful receipe, I would love to try making atleast once! Is there any other fish that I can substitute Chitol maach with?

  3. Debadutta ChakrabortyJuly 02, 2014 11:55 AM

    My Pishi makes the best muithya I have tested after my Dida who died when I was very young. Whenever we went to Kolkata, my Maa used to request my Pishi to make them. She used to labouriously prepare the delicious dish. But now my Maa is no more and my Pishi too has survived three heart attacks. We are unable to go Kolkata now, so having them again in this lifetime is a distant dream.

  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

  5. It is really interesting, I hope everybody lick this Post.

  6. Lovely article and thanks for Rituporna for sharing the recipe with you and your share with rest of the world. :)

    Additionally, I am proud of Rituporna, fellow FDA er, trying out some of the difficult recipes.

  7. I take the entire mixed mash of fish potatoes and masala, wrap it wellwin 2-3 layers of aluminum foil while giving it the intended shape. Then boil water In a large pan and let it in for 10-15 mins. That averts any chance of the cake breaking up.


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