Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Lighter Fish Stew

পাঙ্গাস মাছের দোপিঁয়াজা 
Basa Dopiaza with Peas & Tomatoes



Pangash in a broth of onion, peas and tomatoes


My only New Year's resolution for 2019 is to cook more fish, and so I'm pleased that my first recipe this year is a Bangladeshi fish stew. I've been wanting to share a recipe like this for a while, but I just wasn't sure what fish to use from the supermarkets around me in the UK. However, it seems they've started stocking basa nowadays, which I grew up eating and know as pangash in Bengali. Native to South Asia, pangash has gently flavoured white flesh - which works well with the lighter spicing of this recipe. 

The classic Dhaka "hotel" version of this dish is made with spices and onions only, in keeping with what a dopiaza usually is. But mom used to add tomatoes and peas at home to give the dish a little more flavour, which is especially important if the fish you're using isn't fresh. Traditional cuts of fish in Bangladesh leave bones in, which means the fish survives* the vigorous cooking process more easily. In the UK I can only get fillets**, which are a little delicate and prone to breaking up from frying and stewing. I recommend cooking this in a pot large enough to hold all of your fish in a single layer, so that the pieces aren't rubbing against each other as you try to flip them or stir the sauce. Additionally, you could opt to flash fry the fillets rather than frying them for 4-5 minutes as I recommend. This makes it easier to keep them intact. However, do note that it's typical in Bangladesh to fry the fish in hot oil long enough so that the pieces are left with a crust - and flash frying won't quite give you the same texture or flavour.

The recipe below serves two generously, or four as part of a bigger meal. Please note that unlike most of my meat recipes, this stew will not keep in the fridge for more than a few days. 

Ingredients:
  • 400.00g of basa fillets
  • 120.00g of onion
  • 0.50 teaspoons of garlic paste 
  • 0.75 teaspoons of ginger paste
  • 1.00 teaspoon of powdered cumin
  • 1.00 teaspoon of powdered turmeric 
  • 1.00 teaspoon of chilli powder, or to taste
  • 1.00 large tomato
  • 1.00 handful of peas
  • 2.00 fresh green chillies
  • Salt, to taste
  • Coriander, to taste

Method:
  • Mix half a teaspoon of turmeric and one teaspoon of salt into the fish. Leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
  • As the fish marinades, finely slice the onion, dice the tomato and cut the chillies in half. 
  • Heat some oil in a frying pan, adding enough so that it covers the entire base of the pan. 
  • Once the oil is hot, add the fillets and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side. Make sure the fillets are always in a single layer - if need be fry them in two batches and add more oil as necessary. Once done, set the fried fish aside.
  • In the same pan, add a little fresh oil if the previous batch has dried up, and let it heat. 
  • Add the sliced onion, and fry until it turns a light brown colour. This will take between 5-10 minutes. 
  • Once the onions are browned, add half a cup of hot water, the powdered cumin, chilli and remaining turmeric to the pan. Turn the heat down to low, and mix well. 
  • Continue cooking the spice mixture for 9-10 minutes, turning the heat back up to medium while doing so. Add a little boiling water to the dish whenever it seems too dry, and stir regularly. The oil should separate out from the spice mixture by the end of the process. 
  • Add the fried fish to the pan in a single layer, along with the chilli, tomato, peas and half a cup of hot water.  
  • Season to taste with salt, and simmer for another 9-10 minutes.
  • Take off the heat and serve hot with rice. 

Additional Info
Omit the tomato, peas and coriander for the classic version and/or reduce the water content for a drier dish. This dish may also be referred to as "maacher jhol" on other blogs or cookbooks. "Maach" translates to fish, "er" denotes possession and "jhol" translates roughly to sauce or gravy. In this context, the most apt overall translation for maacher jhol is fish stew. There are many regional and personal variations to the recipe incorporating coriander seeds, mustard seeds, poppy seed paste etc., but the above is what my family most commonly cook. 

*Okay, so the fish is clearly dead by this point. 
**Unless I go to Bangladeshi stores, of which there are none near me...

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