A classic Bengali fish curry with one of my favorite fishes – Pabda machher jhal! This fish curry guarantees a satisfying meal every time!
My fish-loving Bengali gene is very happy today! And all because of today’s recipe of padba machher jhal which is always a soulful delight for any Bengali! I can safely say that this is my second favorite after Shorshe Bhapa Ilish!
If you are a Bengali then I am sure you are pretty well familiar with Pabda machh. But for my readers from other parts of India and world, let me introduce you to a delicious buttery fish called Padba which will prove to be any fish-lover’s delight!
The texture of this fish is very soft & succulent and good news is that it is a boneless fish! These fishes do not grow very big; the size you see in my pictures is optimum. Also the best part of making pabda machher jhal is that it takes no time at all to cook from start to end! This fish cooks really fast and so is the gravy! Win-win!
My recipe of padba machher jhal is a typical Bengali no-onion no-garlic recipe of fish curry. Hence it hardly takes time to put together. You just need to cook the spices well and that’s it.
Before making the gravy, I lightly fry the fishes to develop some flavor on them. If you directly boil raw fish in the gravy, it will not emanate much flavor.
It’s a common practice in Bengali cooking to fry the fishes before simmering them in the gravy. Pieces from larger fish are fried longer but small fish like Pabda is very lightly sautéed; otherwise they turn very tough and lose their buttery texture.
If you are a newbie in kitchen and just learning to cook, then this recipe of padba maccher jhal is the right one to start with. There is no complications whatsoever in making this.
All you need is mustard oil, green chilli, kalo jeere (kalonji), turmeric powder, jeera (cumin) powder, red chilli powder and ginger paste! Coriander powder is optional, you may choose to skip it.
Once the oil is hot, temper it with green chilli and kalo jeere. Keep a smooth paste of spices ready before starting with the oil. The spice paste will have turmeric powder, jeera powder and red chilli powder along with ginger paste; mix everything with little water, give a good whisk and it’s ready.
Sauté the spice paste in hot oil for 8 to 10 minutes. Then pour in water to make the gravy. Season with salt to taste. Once the gravy starts to boil, return the fried pabda fishes to the frying pan or kadai.
Simmer them for good 10 minutes on low heat. The fish will get cooked and the gravy will also thicken. Finally sprinkle freshly chopped coriander leaves and serve the delicious hot pabda machher jhal with plain white rice! Enjoy!
- Pabda fish – 4, whole, gutted and cleaned
- Mustard oil - 6 to 8 tbsp
- Kala jeera/kalonji – ½ tsp
- Green chili – 3 or 4, halved
- Ginger paste – 2 tbsp
- Turmeric powder – 1 & ½ tsp
- Cumin powder – 3 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1 tsp
- Red chilli powder – 1 tsp (or less depending on your taste)
- Salt to taste
- Fresh coriander leaves to garnish
- Wash the padba very well and drain out all the water. Now sprinkle half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and half a teaspoon of salt over the cleaned fish.
- Rub the turmeric and salt on both sides of the fish coating each piece evenly. Set it aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Now heat a non-stick frying pan or cast iron pan. Add about 4 tablespoons of mustard oil to it and let it become very hot.
- Once the oil starts smoking, reduce the flame to lowest and wait for a minute for the oil to cool a little.
- Now carefully place the coated pabda on the frying pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan, if needed fry one or two at a time.
- Fry the pabda on medium low flame for 2 minutes, then flip it over and fry the other sides for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not over-fry the pabda as it will become tough.
- Take them out on a plate carefully so that they don’t break (it’s very easy to break since it is a very delicate fish. Set them aside while you make the gravy or jhol.
- Add all the powdered spices and ginger paste in a small bowl. Add about half a cup of water and whisk the spices to make a smooth and lump-free liquid mixture.
- Now heat up the same frying pan that you used for frying the fishes and add remaining mustard oil to it.
- Once the oil warms up, temper it with kala jeera and green chillies. Immediately add the spice mixture which you prepared to the hot oil.
- Bring the flame to medium high and sauté the spice mix until the oil starts to release. It will take good 2 minutes, so do take your time to cook the spices really well.
- Once the oil starts to release, add water (you may add hot water) to the pan. Quantity of water will depend on how much gravy you need. I would recommend about 2 to 3 cups of water. Add salt to taste.
- Bring the liquid to boil. Then add the fried fishes to the pan. Make sure the fishes are immersed in the gravy.
- Cover the pan and simmer the gravy for 10 to 15 minutes. Fish will be cooked completely and get infused with all the flavors from spices.
- Uncover the pan after about 10 minutes and check the consistency of the gravy. If it feels too watery, then boil off some excess water by keeping it on high heat for 5 more minutes.
- Finally sprinkle fresh coriander leaves and your pabda machher jhal is ready to serve! Enjoy with plain white rice preferably Basmati!