Friday, July 25, 2014

Almost There

সর্ষে দিয়ে সি ব্যাস
Sea Bass in Mustard

Sea bass in mustard, served with garlic spinach and rice

Ramadan is almost over! I often feel that fasting for Ramadan is more spiritual in countries without Muslim-majority populations. Office times aren't adjusted to make way for sunset and people don't stop eating around you. All this makes you stop and think about why you're doing this, and it demands self-discipline as you carry on with your normal life. It's fulfilling, but sometimes I also miss the social aspect of Ramadan I get in Bangladesh or with family. So a couple of times in the month I remedy this by inviting people over for iftaar at mine. On this particular occasion, I was planning a Bengali menu and hence the fish. Traditionally, this mustard based dish is cooked with ilish, the national fish of Bangladesh. However, its popularity has also led to overfishing of the species, so I try not to buy it - especially the variety exported abroad. 

I've been told that the ilish in this dish can be substituted for various oily marine fish, like sea bass as I've done here. A lot of Bangladeshis living abroad also use salmon, something my aunt kindly corroborated from across the pond. I bet this is because salmon is seen as a sufficiently glamorous substitute to ilish, but I'm personally not a big fan. Salmon overpowers the mustard a bit too much, and a part of me also believes it's a sin to do anything with salmon other than smoke it. Using sea bass yields a strong fishy-mustardy dish that's much closer to the original ilish iteration. The recipe below isn't perfect yet though, so a few words of caution. I've cooked this with fillets, which doesn't take kindly to vigorous stirring. I'd recommend trying this with fish still on the bone, cut Asian style. And while it isn't traditional, I think next time I'll add a pinch of cumin to the dish, just to cut through the fishiness a little more. If and when I get round to trying this again, I'll update the ingredients and method. The recipe below serves 2 generously. 

  • 400.00 g of sea bass fillets
  • 2 medium onions, around 200.00 g
  • 1.50 tablespoons of mustard oil
  • 1.00 tablespoons of black mustard seed
  • 0.75 tablespoons of yellow mustard seed
  • 1.00 teaspoon of ginger paste
  • 0.75 teaspoons of garlic paste
  • 0.75 teaspoons of powdered turmeric
  • 1.00 dried whole chilli
  • Fresh green chillies, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

  • Finely chop the first onion, and set aside
  • Turn the second onion into a smooth paste - either grate by hand or pop into a food processor to do this
  • Using a mortar and pestle, crush the mustard seeds with the turmeric, a little salt and fresh chilli to form a paste
  • Mix this chilli-mustard paste into the garlic, ginger and onion pastes, then set aside
  • Put a large saucepan or frying pan on medium-high heat, and add the mustard oil. Make sure the pan is large enough to accommodate all of the sea bass fillets in one layer
  • Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion. Shallow fry for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • Add the pastes to the saucepan, stirring to mix. Continue cooking for another 3 to 4 minutes

The ingredients, all ready to be mixed

  • Add around 300.00 ml of boiling water to the dish. Mix to form a sauce, and cook the spices for 8 to 10 minutes on a medium-low heat
  • Once the spices are cooked, begin adding the sea bass to the pan. Nestle the fillets into the sauce in a single layer. This allows the fillets to cook evenly, while avoiding the need for stirring and potentially breaking them up. If easier, cut them into smaller pieces

Sea bass in mustard, cooking in a single layer

  • Top up the pan with boiling water to ensure all the fillets are mostly covered. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 10 minutes. During this period, spoon sauce onto the fillets occasionally, but avoid stirring
  • Add the dried chilli, then cook for a final 20 minutes. Take the dish off the heat once, and serve with plain rice or polao

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