April 21, 2014

A page from my Ma's cookbook ~Odia style fish curry/ Maachha Aloo Jhola/Macha Tarkari~

 As the aroma of the fish curry wafted through the hallway into the bedroom, M (that’s my hubby) came sniffing into the kitchen. Often it’s quite unlikely to elicit such a response from him when I am conjuring up a fish recipe. But this as you might have guessed was a very pleasant surprise. It is my tested way of getting assured that this dish is here to stay and going to be served on demand on many mundane occasions. More so a total win especially when you are trying to think of ways you can make fish recipes without it tasting fishy. Quite tricky eh? Ahh yes and to complicate things – I am an absolute fish eating, true Odia at heart. So you see my attachment to this very sensitive subject and my extensive efforts to make this a success.

My memories of this recipe goes way back to days when I came home from school to a plate of piping hot rice served with this special hand licking fish curry. In those days, the comfort and luxury of getting delicious meals without preparing them was almost taken for granted and was more so of a regular affair. But not so much now! So one of these days when I felt the urge to refresh some memories, I turned back to this gem of a recipe my Ma cooked quite so often.

This is a few ingredient fish curry ("Maachha" meaning Fish; "Aloo" meaning potato and "Jhola" refering to a thin consistency gravy quite typical of an Odia curry) with distinctive flavor which is sure to enrapture your taste buds for a while. If you are looking for a light, simple and different fish curry, look no more since here it is. This recipe reminds me that it's all about the very little things that make so much of a difference and it’s always these things that matter the most.

~Odia Style fish curry / Maachha Aloo Jhola~

A typical Odia fish curry in which fish steaks and potatoes sautéed in mustard oil steep in a flavorful, spicy onion-tomato gravy with a distinctive bite of the pancha phutana* playing along with the musky undertone of freshly grated cinnamon as the final touch. 
*Pancha Phutana is the traditional Odia tempering mix made of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asfoetida seeds, fennel seeds and black caraway seeds.

Fish (German or Silver Carp) – 1 lb
1 tsp Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Salt

3-4 Medium sized potatoes – Cut longitudinally into four

Mustard Oil for shallow frying 

½  tsp Panch Phutana 
1 Bay leaf
½ C Ginger garlic paste
1 C Onion paste
½ tsp Turmeric powder
½-1 tsp Chili powder (depending on the hotness you would like)
½ C Tomato puree
½ T Dhania powder
½ tsp Garam Masala powder
2 C Water
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of Cinnamon powder
Salt to taste

1. Marinate the fish pieces with salt and turmeric. Put it in the refrigerator till ready to fry.

2. Heat a pan over medium heat. Pour some oil to coat the surface of the pan. Once the pan gets hot, add in a few fish pieces at a time. Saute for about 1-2 minutes. Then, take them out and keep aside.

3. Repeat the same for the potato cubes. Keep aside.

4. In the same pan, take out the excess oil. Now, once the left over oil is hot, add in the pancha phutana and let it crackle.

5. Then, pour in the onion, ginger, garlic and tomato paste. Let it cook till the mixture starts boiling (about 3-4 mins).

6. Now add in the chili powder, turmeric powder and dhania powder, salt to taste and sugar. Cook till the mixture starts bubbling and leaves oil.

7. Add in water and let the gravy come to a boil. Then simmer the gravy till the oil floats on top.

8. Carefully slide the potato pieces and let it simmer for 3-4 mins and then add in the fish pieces. Cook for 2-3 mins more.

9. Switch off the heat and sprinkle cinnamon powder on the top and taste for salt.

10. Serve piping hot with plain rice with a serving of cilantro on top.

A few things to keep in mind when making this. 
- Not everyone can take in the piquancy of the mustard oil with as much gusto as we Odias' do. So feel free to substitute with any other oil you prefer.
- We generally use fresh water fish for this curry. I found the German/Silver Carp to be the closest in taste so I used them. Use any other fish that you might prefer.
- The pancha phutana is readily available in all stores here in the US and if not you can a equal part mix of asfoetida and nigella (black caraway seeds) alonng with 2 parts each of Cumin, mustard and fennel seeds.You can substitute this tempering with your regular monotone tempering and see the difference.

Try this out and there's no doubt that you will see the subtle undertones of the panch phutana that makes all the difference in this recipe.

Until next time!
P.S: Submitting this recipe to:
WTML - May hosted by Gayatri.

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