Bengali Fish Curry (Maacher Kalia, Jhol) Recipe

Maacher Kalia
Maacher Kalia. Shukanto Das/Wikimedia Commons
  • 75 mins
  • Prep: 30 mins,
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings fish curry
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Maacher kalia or maacher jhol is a simple Bengali fish curry that is a favorite in many Indian families.

Maacher means "fish" and kalia or jhol means "in curry or gravy." The most commonly used fish to prepare this dish is a type of fresh water carp or rui maach. If you do not have access to rui maach, you also can use salmon, pomfret, sea bass, red snapper, tilapia or catfish.

Unlike in other parts of India, Bengali recipes call for the frying of the main ingredient in mustard oil before it is added to the gravy or curry. This is thought to enhance flavors and cause the fish/meat/eggs to absorb the spices in the gravy better.

In some Bengali homes, this frying translates to deep-frying, while in others it means pan-frying. Take your pick depending on your preference.

What You'll Need

  • For the Fish:
  • 2.2 pounds (1 kg) thickly cut rohu steaks (cleaned and scales removed)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (haldi)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mustard or vegetable or canola or sunflower cooking oil
  • For the Gravy:
  • 4 tablespoons mustard or vegetable or canola or sunflower cooking oil
  • 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 3 tablespoons mustard/ vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 5 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, ground to a smooth paste in a food processor
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 2 tomatoes chopped very fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (haldi)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander (dhani)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin (jeera)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened yogurt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 cup fresh, green coriander leaves/cilantro, chopped very fine

How to Make It

Make the Fish

  1. Wash the fish well, drain ALL water and pat each piece dry with a paper towel. Lay fish in a flat dish.
  2. Sprinkle the turmeric (haldi) and salt over the fish and mix well to ensure every piece of fish is well coated with the marinade. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  3. When the fish has marinated, set up a frying pan on medium heat, to fry the fish. When the pan is hot, add the cooking oil and heat.
  1. Fry the pieces of fish until each one is golden on both sides. Do not crowd the pan and remember to be gentle with the fish as it cooks quickly and can break easily. When fried, remove to paper towels to drain and reserve for later use.

Make the Gravy

  1. Use the same oil (add more if necessary) to pan fry the potatoes till they are half-cooked and golden. Drain and keep aside on paper towels for later use.
  2. If there is any cooking oil left over from the frying (fish and potatoes), use it in this next step. Add more if required.
  3. Heat the cooking oil on medium heat and add the bay leaf, cardamom pods, and cumin seeds. Sauté until the spluttering stops.
  4. Now add the onion paste, ginger paste, and garlic paste and fry for 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Now add the tomatoes, turmeric, coriander (dhania), cumin (jeera) and yogurt. Stir to mix well. Fry this spice mixture until the oil begins to separate from it forming a sheen on top of the mixture. This could take up to 10 minutes.
  6. Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of hot water and the previously fried potatoes to this mixture. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are done.
  7. Now add the previously fried pieces of fish to the gravy and stir gently. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes to reheat the fish.
  8. Turn off the heat and garnish the dish with the fresh, chopped coriander leaves.
  9. Serve with freshly prepared plain rice.