Maacher Jhol (Bengali-Style Fish Stew)

  • Serves

    serves 4


No Bengali meal is complete without maacher jhol, fish simmered in a tomato-based curry scented with mustard oil and the region's distinctive mix of five spices: toasted fenugreek, nigella, cumin, black mustard, and fennel seeds. This recipe, from author Indrani Sen's grandmother, first appeared in our August/September 2014 special India issue with the story Required Eating.


  • 1 lb. boneless, skin-on catfish, trout, or salmon, cut into 2" pieces
  • 14 tsp. ground turmeric
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 12 tbsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 13 cup mustard oil
  • 2 tsp. panch phoran (Bengali five-spice powder)
  • 2 small green Thai chiles or 1 serrano, halved
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 (2") piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 13 cup packed cilantro leaves


Step 1

Rub fish with turmeric and salt in a bowl. Heat a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high; cook mustard and cumin seeds until they pop, 1–2 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder into a powder. Add oil to pan; heat over medium-high. Cook fish, flipping once, until skin is crisp, 4–5 minutes; transfer to a plate. Add five-spice powder and chiles; cook 1–2 minutes. Add onion; cook until slightly caramelized, 8–10 minutes. Add reserved spices, the garlic, ginger, and 1 1⁄2 cups water; boil. Add tomatoes; cook until thickened, 8–10 minutes. Stir in fish and the cilantro.

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