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
- 1⁄4 tsp. ground turmeric
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp. black mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp. cumin seeds
- 1⁄3 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
- 1⁄3 cup packed cilantro leaves
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.