Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case | A Detour From Thailand To Wish Shubho Noboborsho!

Posted on April 15, 2013

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This post probably should have happened a long time ago. The Shorshe Bata Maach or the Bengali Mustard Fish is the most sought after dish in a Bengali’s life (not necessarily, but to belong to the Bong brigade you have to play along with this tag). It has also been the most searched after term in my blog. A Bengali Blogger at the end of the day has to blog on Maach/Fish, Shorshe Bata/Mustard Paste and Rôshogolla/Rasgulla. On Rôshogolla, I have. On Shorshe Bata, I haven’t. I have been feeling a bit nervous lately with the invisible ostracisation (from the Bengali community) notice hanging above my head. So, I take the opportunity of today being the first day of the Bengali New year, to write my long due post on Shorshe Bata Maach. This is a slight detour on my blogging atlas – I’ve been hovering in Thailand, with my last few posts being -

Koh Klang in Krabi, Thailand | A Photo Essay of An Island Life
• Ruen Mai Restaurant In Krabi | A Tantalising First Experience Of Thai Food {In Thailand, That is!}

And before I write my third post on the Fishermen’s village in Thailand and the floating restaurant where all I had was more fish and where I came back again to learn Thai cooking from Bao, the cook of the restaurant with yes, more fish recipes… I thought my Bengali Macher post has to come through!

I’ve tick marked in the right check boxes to prove my Bengali genes by writing on Rôshogolla before {Rôshogolla (রসগোল্লা) | Bengali’s Own Sweet} and some more sweets {Bengali Sweets That Came By Parcel!}. I have even made Rôshogolla for the local television channel Dubai One for a special episode on Ramadan {Rasgulla Macapuno On TV & Shubho Bijoya to all!} and prepared the Bengali Aam Pana for another channel and mixed the green Bengali Aam Pana with other drinks to resemble the UAE flag {UAE National Day… Aam Pana | My Dubai My City} and written an ode to Luchi in a lifestyle Gourmet magazine {Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi!}… I still feel incomplete because I haven’t written on Shorshe Bata Maach!

Probably every Bong is born onto this world knowing how to cook Shorshe Bata or how to categorise a dish cooked in Shorshe Bata as oshadharaon/fabulous or joghyono/horrible. Taking cue from a Bengali phrase, this post is not about Mayer kaache Maashir golpo bola (translated literally, it would mean to tell Mother all about her own sister which in effect translates into saying things to a person that are already known to him!). What I mean to say is that… this is what I do when I cook Shorshe Bata for our non-Bengali friends or non-Indian friends. The taste is traditionally Bengali, the cooking technique mostly not. And most of the times, the fish too, is not. My freezer doesn’t regularly stock Bengali fish – the frozen Bengali fish bought from the Bangladeshi market, until and unless our parents are visiting us. Or, some fussy relative from back home who cannot digest his/her meal without a Bengali fish and that too cooked in a typical Bengali jhol or jhal (below)!

One of the things that cannot be substituted is naturally, the Mustard Oil. Without this, a Bengali fish is absolutely incomplete. The gravy (above) that gathers once cooked in Mustard Oil is, then Bong certified! Getting the right Mustard Oil can be sometimes tricky on foreign shores. The Asian supermarkets do stock different types of Mustard Oil. Here in Dubai, even regular supermarkets like Spinneys, Choitram’s, Carrefour or Lulu Hypermarkets stock Mustard Oil but a few of the brands are taste very bland and flat. A small study into Mustard Oil {here…} probably will help in choosing the right Mustard Oil. It has to be really pungent, must be very deep in colour and have a strong Mustard smell. I have been using a brand that is called PRO (probably there are more brands around, but this is readily available. I remember using another brand called Tez while we were in Frankfurt. I’ve found it in Dubai too, but which currently is unavailable). Do look out for this term ‘Kachi Ghani‘ where the term refers to cold press extraction process of Mustard Oil so that it may retain more oxidants and vitamins.

The second most important ingredient is Mustard Paste. Traditionally, Mustard Paste is made by grinding the brown Mustard Seeds (above) on a Sheel Nora, the traditional grinding stone used in Bengali kitchens but a look at my etched Sheel (below) will probably tell you that I’ve figured out other ways to get my Mustard Paste done! A modern day Coffee grinder works just as fine though my Mum and Mum-in-law wouldn’t agree to that. And if this is also a bit too much of a chore, I’ve experimented with a whole lot of bottled Mustard Pastes available in the supermarkets and have found my soul mate – the Mailler’s Moutarde D’Ancienne Mustard Paste (down below). You may probably stumble upon your own version but definitely do use a Mustard Paste which has these visible seeds in them and is not a smooth paste – in order to give the authentic Bong Shorshe Bata feeling. I’ve been also fine-tuning the Aloo Bhaate or the simple Mashed Potato with this Mustard paste {Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté} to make a gourmet presentation for my German friends who die for Kartoffel Purée!Mustard Paste, Mustard Oil, Green Chillis

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Shorshe Baata Maach/Mustard Salmon

Category – Fish; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali

Following are the characteristics of all recipes doling out of our little hands, big hearth -

♥ Easy to cook
♥ Regular canned products off the shelf may be used (However, we advocate using fresh products)
♥ Goes well both as a regular or party dish
♥ Children can easily help in making the dish (My two little sous-chéfs are aged 8 and 3 years 4 years)
♥ And lastly, guaranteed to be tasty!

For the printable recipe →

Serves 6 persons

Preparation time – 45 mins maximum (Cooking time – 30min; Remaining time is for the preparation)

Ingredients
Salmon steaks – 4 big pieces, longitudinally cut into halves (you may retain the pieces if they are not very big – at the end of the day your fish should cream out – Yes! I’m a Bong fish!)
Mustard Paste – 2 tbsp, Mailler’s Moutarde D’Ancienne (Do use less if you don’t like the pungent mustard paste but as I’ve mentioned before, definitely use a Mustard Paste which has these seeds and is not a smooth paste)
Turmeric – 1 tsp
Red Chilli Powder – 1 tsp
Black Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp
Cumin Powder – 1 tsp (my Mum-in-law’s secret tip, specially so if your are grinding Mustard seeds to make a paste. this prevents the paste from tasting bitter)
Mustard Oil – 3 tbsp
Grated Coconut – 1/2 cup (optional)
Green Chillies – 4 pieces (slit them if you want them more spicy)
Salt – as per taste

• If you make the Mustard Paste by grinding Mustard Seeds
Brown Mustard Seeds – 2 tbsp, grinded into a paste

Method of Preparation
– Marinate the Salmon Steaks with Turmeric and the Mustard Paste for half an hour
– Pour 1 tsp of Mustard Oil in a wok, add the Black Cumin Seeds and let them splutter. Put them aside
– In a large pan, put the marinated Salmon Steaks. Add the Salt, Red Chilli Powder and 1/2 cup of water. Pour over the rest of the Mustard Oil. Cover the pan and let the fish cook in low seam (Make sure that the fish doesn’t stick to the pan when the gravy thickens and the fish gets cooked. You may have to add a bit of water depending upon how you like your gravy to be)
– Salmon has a lot of oil of it’s own and you’ll notice that a lot of Oil releases eventually as the fish is slow cooked
– Add the sliced Green Chillies, grated Coconut and the Black cumin seeds
– Let it cook for a while. Serve hot with White Rice.

Some prefer their fish to be fried slightly. Whisked yogurt is also added to thicken the gravy. But we prefer it without the Yogurt as it tends to make the taste of the gravy go slightly sour. Also, I do not use grated coconut so that the preparation is light on Z-Sisters’ tummies. Although we like the gravy of our Shorshe Bata Maach to be a bit thick – what I’d describe as makha makha, I try to get the same by slow cooking cooking as much as possible so that the Masalas get cooked in the fish’s own oil and it separates out and floats dreamily on top!

Different takes on Mustard Fish

I sometimes grill the fish marinated with the same ingredients after wrapping the pieces in Banana leaf like a Paturi (above) or add more water to make a patla Jhal/light gravy (below) depending upon our mood! Shown below is Nile Perch cooked in the Bengali Mustard style, while the above shows Hummour fillets. We’ve stopped using Hammour completely as they are being ‘over-fished’. in the UAE waters.

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Taking the fishy excerpt out of the Encyclopaedia that I’ve written on Traditional Bengali Cuisine

Fish is still cooked daily for main course in most traditional Bengali households. Bengali cuisine is famous for it’s Maacher Jhol or Maacher Jhaal. Maacher Jhol is where the gravy of the dish is made with ginger, turmeric, cumin powder, green chillis (the ingredients may vary from one region of Bengal to another) and Jhaal is where the gravy is hot and spicy and made with mustard paste, turmeric, chilli. Shorshe Maach/Mustard Fish is a very popular fish dish.

Shown below are various Bengali fish delicacies (starting from top left) – Chitol Maacher Muitha/Chitol Fish Dumpling Curry, Pabda Maacher Jhaal/Pabda Fish Spicy Curry, Tel Koi/Koi Fish in Oil, Rui Maacher Kalia/Rohu Fish Kalia. There are obviously many many more types of fish preparation – Doi Maach/Fish cooked in yoghurt, Bhapa Maach/Steamed Fish, Maacher Paturi/Fish marinated in different spices and wrapped in Banana leaves and then steamed.Bengali Fish

Special mention has to be made to the Hilsa fish. The Hilsa or the Iilish Maach is synonymous with Bengal and is considered the ‘queen’ of all Bengali fish. Hilsa is also of political importance. It is a serious bone of contention between India and it’s neighbouring country Bangladesh. Which Hilsa is better – the Hilsa that is found in the Padma river in Bangladesh or the Ganga river, the last phase of which flows through Bengal before it merges into the sea-waters of Bay of Bengal?

The entire month of July and August, that is during the Monsoons, Kolkata is gripped by Hilsa fever. Hilsa festivals and special Hilsa lunches are organised in different clubs and hotels. Each conversation revolves around Hilsa. This year had been hard-hitting for the Hilsas with the prices shooting upto as high as Rs 1,500/kg (Dhs 100/- approximately!). The fish markets in Kolkata are in itself a subject for immense discussion – perhaps better kept for another future post. The bony Hilsa is a delicacy and is prepared traditionally in many ways – the Shorshe Baata/Mustard Hilsa, Kalo Jeerar Jhol/Black Cumin Curry, Bhapa/Steamed etc.Hilsa
The discussion of Bengali fish can go on for ever. To cut it short we bring in the topic of Prawns. Bagda Chingri/Tiger Prawns and Golda Chingri/Indian Scampi go into making exquisite Bengali delicacies – Shorshe Chingri/Mustard Prawn (below right), Prawn Polao (below left), Narkel Chingri/Coconut Prawn and the famous Chingri Maacher Malaicurry/Prawn Curry where Coconut milk is used to make the gravy and is made on very special occasions.Prawns/Chingri

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Where will you get Bengali Fish in Dubai?

Many of us who have now made our homes on the shores beyond Bengal, have substituted various things to complement our Bengali Cooking. We have adapted ourselves and learnt to make good of what is available in the local markets. Most of the Bengali friends of my generation grew up studying for exams and not entering the kitchen that much. We ate what we were served by our Mums. It’s only when we began living our own lives that we started resorting to Bengali Food as our fall back comfort food. Binging on traditional Bengali meals when visiting our parents’ homes on holidays and waiting for someone more experienced in Bengali cooking – were the only ways to experience the meals that we grew up on.

Where will you get Bengali Fish? Most Bangladeshi markets stock frozen packets of the different fish that are used in Bengali cooking. So you’ll get Koi Fish frozen fresh, packed in Thailand and flown many miles to Bangladeshi markets world wide. While we didn’t find any Bangladeshi market in Colombo, Srilanka, our stay in Frankfurt wasn’t devoid of Bengali Fish! Our stint in Colombo, Frankfurt and Dubai has taught us that if one is looking for Bengali  food products that are available outside India, they can only be found in Bangladeshi shops and Asian supermarkets selling Bangladeshi products.

In Dubai, a few Bengali fish is available in the supermarket Citi Mart near Imperial Suites Hotel, located on Rolla Road, Bur Dubai (Tel: 04-3523939). It’s quite likely that on Friday mornings you’ll bump into Bengalis who have come to do their fish-marketing. All varieties of Bengali Fish are available at the Bangladeshi markets in Backet in Sharjah. Rui Maach/Rohu fish is available at Lulu Supermarket in Al Barsha but the sizes of the fish being smaller than 1.5 kgs results in a bit if disappointment in taste.

The different fish that are available in the local supermarkets in Dubai that I often use to make traditional Bengali fish preparations… Lady fish fried in batter substitutes well as Topshe Maach Bhaja, Sultan Ibrahami cooked with Black Cumin Seeds substitutes well as Pabda Maacher Jhol, Cream Dori fillets wrapped in Banana Leaves substitutes well as Bhetki Maacher Paturi. Salmon steaks cooked in Mustard Paste and Mustard Oil substitutes, well sorry there can be no substitutes for this – the Hilsa! But it works quite well. Almost! Red Mullets can be cooked like Bhetki Maach and Needle fish can be fried crispy like Mourala Maach.

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I’ve gathered the following Mustard fish recipes from my blogger friends (they are food bloggers first and then Bongs!). Some recipes use traditional Bengali fish, some don’t – as my friends too have learnt to cook with substitutes while living on foreign shores.

Bhapa Shorshe Chingri: Steamed Prawns in Mustard, Poppy Seed Sauce from eCurry
Shorshe Maach / Tilapia in Mustard Sauce – Guest Post for Vijitha @ Spices N Aroma from Sunshine and Smile
Flounder in a Bengali Mustard Curry – Shorshe Flounder from Cooking in Westchester
Macher Paturi/Parcels of mustard-coated fish steamed in banana leaves for a perfect evening from Quick Indian Cooking
Bhapa Ilish — Steamed Hilsa from Bong Mom’s Cookbook
Bata Mach Sarse Diye – Fish in Rich Mustard Gravy from Cook like a Bong
Pomfret Shorsher Jhol or Pomfret in Mustard Curry from Finely Chopped
Choto Maacher Jhaal from The Bengali Gourmet’s Blog

Food connects people, cultures, countries and minds. I cooked this dish for Dima, a food artisan herself. She came back from her culinary trip from Mauritius and told me that there’s a traditional Mauritian dish – the Vindaye, which is very similar to the Shorshe Bata Maach that I had cooked for her. Here’s her recipe to the Calamari & Shrimp Vindaye – Mauritius Specialty Mustard Curry.

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With this post I am a satisfied Bong soul, though previously I had written so many Bengali posts and the biggest of all my posts – my encyclopaedic post is on traditional Bengali cooking {Traditional Bengali Cuisine | In ‘Slight’ Details}. Shubho Noborsho to all my Bengali readers and here’s explaining the Bengali Mustard fish or the quintessentially Bengali preparation Shorshe Baata Maach for the others – maybe not the traditional way but definitely with the same traditional taste!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals but please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

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Bengali food posts in my blog that you may like