Macher jhol is literally ‘fish curry’ in Bangla, and a traditional Bengali go-to fish stew that often includes vegetables and is seasoned with turmeric and easily-found ground spices. The stew is light and flavourful and is usually made with freshwater fish such as hilsa, rohu or catla.
Unlike other fish-eating regions in India where marinated fish is directly put in curry to be cooked, Bengali fish recipes always call for the fish to be lightly fried first. Apart from adding taste and texture to the dish, frying the fish helps hold its form when soaked in gravy and not disintegrate.
The limited use of masalas ensures that the nutritional value of the fish and vegetables used stay intact. This is one of the biggest reasons that macher jhol is THE dish that a Bengali mother will serve to recovering invalid in the house. The light stew rejuvenates and helps build strength.
Here is how you can prepare macher jhol at home and share it with your family for dinner. This recipe of macher jhol serves four people.
4 fillets of rohu (from the freshwater carp family)
1 six-inch ridge gourd (also known as turai)
1 medium potato
4-5 florets of cauliflower
2-3 pointed gourd
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 bay leaf
Salt to taste
Few sprigs of coriander leaves
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1. Thoroughly clean the fish and marinate with turmeric and salt. Keep the pieces aside.
2. Clean all the vegetables and cut them length-wise. Mix a little turmeric powder and salt in the uncooked vegetables.
3. Keep a kadhai on medium flame and heat about 2 tablespoons of mustard oil and toss the cut vegetables into it. Lightly fry the vegetables and keep them aside.
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4. Add some more mustard oil in the kadhai and once the oil is hot, carefully place the fish and fry the fillets until they become soft, tender. Once done, keep them aside.
5. Meanwhile in a bowl, mix all the spices apart from the nigella seeds, with some water to make a smooth paste and keep aside.
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6. Pour some fresh mustard oil into the wok and toss the nigella seeds and bay leaf. After the sputtering, gently pour in the spice mix paste followed by little water and stir well.
7. Once the oil separates and then add the vegetables, coat them with the spice mix. Add more water to the kadhai and continue cooking.
8. Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add the fried fish filets and cook till done.
9. Remove from the kadhai and serve the macher jhol with steaming hot rice.
Once you relish the charm of this high-protein, home-cooked classic yet simple and sparsely-spiced macher jhol, it will become your go-to fish curry.
With inputs from Chef Sahil Arora, Executive Chef, Renaissance Mumbai
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