A good Bangaal girl eats her fish. Especially fishes which are also Bangaal. To those who are uninitiated, “Bangaal” is a term that refers to those who are originally from lands which are now in Bangladesh. In our family, it is important to be so. My grandparents still speak the language, and have no issues communicating with us in it. In fact, we actually are reserved towards those people who marry non-Bangaals, and sniff at their non-Bangaalhood. It is in that spirit I will speak of one of my favorite things that many people in my family love. Because, this is one of those recipes that have a beautiful conglomeration of all things Bangaal with one essential non-Bangaal touch, which smacks of “Edeshi” cuisine.
I speak of the humble poppy seeds, or posto, a product of the West Bengal cuisine, added to many many fabulous dishes. This recipe is originally my aunt’s, who learned it from an old newspaper, and made it once, then again and again, because the sharpness of mustard and heat of chillies balanced beautifully with the smoothness of poppy seeds, all pasted together. This recipe calls for a fresh hilsa fish, and no, I strongly urge you to find the freshest hilsa available in town. My mother has often cheated and made it with a number of other fishes, and says that this goes really well with firm white flaky fishes as well. However, aunt swears by hilsa, and as this is the middle of the season for that fish (for Bengalis swear by the beauty of fresh hilsa, their eyes perfectly red, filled delicately with the silkiest roe you would find, skin perfectly white and gleaming moistly when slightly nudged with a marauding finger), I decided to make this recipe. The fish in question was around 1 kilo, and it consisted of 7-8 pieces, or rather, steaks of fish, which would alleviate the distribution of the fish roe to each piece.
Wash the fish and apply a tiny bit of salt on the pieces. Make a paste of 50 gm. poppy seeds, 50 gm. mustard seeds, 2 teaspoon lime juice, 6 green chillies together with a bit of water. The paste should not be too runny or too dry. It is advised to make as fine a paste as you possibly can. Add to the paste 1 tablespoon of mustard oil, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, and some salt to taste. Combine and set aside. Beat 75 gm. plain yogurt with 2 tablespoon water and add to the mustard-poppy seed mixture.
Heat 1/2 cup mustard oil in a flat-bottomed 9″ frying pan till it is very hot, place the fish pieces on them, making sure all the fish pieces fit together in the frying pan snugly. Keeping the heat high for exactly 1 minute, and then lowering to medium, fry the fish till its golden on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn each piece of fish carefully over, and you will find that the fish has released a good bit of oil of its own. Remove a couple of slices of fish to make some space and add 1/2 teaspoon kalojeere or Nigella Seeds and 4 whole green chillies. Replace the fish pieces on top of the chillies again, stir once, and pour on top the yogurt-mustard mixture. Cover and simmer for 6-10 minutes, or until the fish is done to your liking.
At our house, we tend to remove the cover after the 5th minute, turn the heat on to really reduce the yogurt thoroughly, and finish off by tasting the fish once and then adjusting salt. Pour 1-2 tablespoon of mustard oil on top and serve. We serve this with rice and call it a day.