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pictures from my india trip


mongo_jones
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we buy frozen pomfret from a large korean store (komart) in aurora (a suburb of denver). it is usually excellent stuff. if you like i can post a recipe for a sweet and tangy pomfret preparation.

Sure.. Post away.

Thanks

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Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, frozen Illish is available in quite a few Indian/Bangladeshi stores. A whole bunch of other "indian" fishes are also available.

If you don't have Illish available, you can substitute American Shad -- Illish and Shad are cousins in the fish family tree...

Here is how we cook our sorshe illish. You can use the same recipe to cook sorshe pomfret as well (pomfret, being a "sea-fish" is not very popular in Bengal, although personally I like it). I have the same problem as Mongo -- I cook this by feel, so I dont actually have a recipe.

Will wait for mongo's recipe so we can compare notes!

Preparing the fish:

--------------------

1) Clean illish by removing all the scales. You really need to remove all the scales.

(Tip: hold illish inside a large transparent plastic bag when removing scales -- that way you wont get scales all over your kitchen). Remove all fins. Remove gills. Preserve Illish head for other tasty preparations.

2) Cut illish in approx. 0.75 thick steaks. In some of the Bangladeshi stores over here, if you ask politely, or if you are in the store when they are not very busy, they will cut it for you. If not, you may have to cut it yourself. When I cut the illish myself, I find it easier to cut it while it is still frozen.

3) Remove the crud from the inside. Don't remove the eggs inside and throw them away! The eggs are delicious. You can separate out the eggs and keep them aside.

3) Illish is a big fish, so now you have to cut the steaks into smaller pieces. usually you make one cut that will separate the "back" side (called "gada" in Bengali) from the "belly" side. The back side will be a triangular piece. If this back side piece is too big, cut this further into half, producing two smaller triangles. The other part, which is the belly side, will be a triangular piece as well, but with a big hole in it (the hole is where the fish eggs were... in case the fish had eggs).

4) The back side tastes better, but is filled with lots more bones than the belly side.

5) Thaw out the fish pieces.

6) Rub all this fish pieces with a little bit of ground turmeric powder and salt and leave them to marinate for 10-15 minutes.

You can use a few of the pieces to make maach bhaja (recipe follows). Rest you can use to make sorshe illish. Maach bhaja goes well with rice and dal.

The deep frying oil is also delicious -- you can simply have some hot rice, mix in some salt and some of this left over deep frying oil and eat it like that.

Making maach bhaja (deep fried fish):

------------------------------------------

1) Heat enough mustard oil in a pan big enough to do deep frying.

2) The oil will start to smoke -- that's how you know its ready.

2) Fry the illish pieces -- depending on their size, it will take about 5-10 minutes. Don't overcook.

Making sorshe illish:

----------------------

1) Soak mustard seeds (I use 50% black and 50% white) in water for 10-15 minutes. Use more mustard seeds than you will need because its easier to grind more seeds.

2) In a blender, grind mustard seeds with enough water. I start with a relatively less water and slowly keep adding water as needed. The final consistency will be a bit more liquidy than Dijon mustard. Make sure that there are no whole seedss left over. In my blender, this process takes about 10 minutes. This will be your gravy. Don't forget to add a bit of salt and mix some more.

3) Heat a shallow pan with a little bit of mustard oil, over medium high heat. When oil starts to smoke, add in the illish fish pieces so they are in a single layer. After a minute or so, turn them over, and then add the mustard paste. Add some slit green chiles for some heat. Once the mustard paste starts boiling, the fish will take another minute or two and you are done.

Cooking the Illish eggs

--------------------------

1) remember the eggs you separated out? Clean them little bit under running water. Take care not to break them too much. Dry them.

2) Break them into abou 1-2 inch pieces, and then deep fry in the same oil that the illish maach was fried in.

3) Once done (3-4 minutes max), sprinkle some salt and they are delicious with dal.

Alternative recipe: You can mash up the eggs, mix with some salt, ground red chile powder, some chopped onions. Then form little 1-2 inch sized balls, and deep fry these balls.

Note:

-----

When cooking pomfret, dont use steaks. Instead:

1) Clean pomfret by removing fins etc.

3) Make 2 cuts:

* Cut just below the head to separate it from the body.

* Cut along the middle of the fish, accross. So you are now left with two sort of triangular looking pieces.

I personally don't like the head, so I throw it away. Some people cook with it.

3) Now you can cook the pomfret in a similar fashion to sorshe illish.

If you can't get pomfret, you can substitute pompano. pompano is bigger, so you might have to make a few more cuts to get the size right.

[ Edit: Corrected my mistyped belly-side/back-side definitions... and some other misc. typos]

Edited by bong (log)
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finally an update: http://home.comcast.net/~mongo_jones/indiafoodpics.html

added pictures from a few meals eaten outside the home, broke everything out into two pages, and fixed the chronology. if you've bookmarked the page you might want to clear your cache and load again to make sure you see the new stuff (some of which is nestled among the old stuff).

i probably have another update's worth of pictures left; and then there's a lot on my digicam that needs to be captured--both to fill in missing holes in some of these meals and in its own right. but don't hold your breath for that one.

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That Bengali Sweets pic made me drool. I wish we had something like that in the States. Or do we, and I just don't know about it?

you my friend should take the freeway to artesia, to ambala sweets on one of the strip-malls off of pioneer blvd. not quite bengali market, but not bad at all.

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Have you tried using mustard powder or Dijon mustard?

I think I did try once, but didn't have a good result. Making your own mustard sauce is pretty easy, so I've never bothered to experiment with readymade mustard. Using mustard poweder will probably give you better result than using Dijon mustard -- IIRC, Dijon mustard has more ingredients than mustard...

BTW, you can use the same mustard sauce to cook shrimps/prawns as well.

In a related note -- while in New Orleans some time back, I had the shrimp remoulade in Arnaud's Restaurant (they call it the "Shrimp Arnaud"), which reminded me of "Sorshe Chingri" (bengali style shrimp in mustard sauce).

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Please do pardon this post as the ramblings of a demented fool.

One find that the regular kitchen blender does not do a satisfactory job [this is purely a personal taste issue] with either black mustard, white poppyseed, or cumin-coriander-black pepper paste. In fact. The result so disappoints me that I have given up preparing these ultimate favorite flavors of mine, until the day I get a grinding stone; even then, the characteristic Bengali pestle [nora] that is an oblong, faceted cylinder gives a different texture than the half-moon shaped north Indian device. The delicate nuances of Bengali dishes are evoked by 2 elements, in addition to fresh mustard oil: ‘phoron’ prepared from relatively freshly harvested seeds, fresher than the year(s)-old stuff available to us; the use of stone-ground spices; even so simple a flavor as turmeric or ginger works its peculiar magic best when stone ground.

That said, one way to more practically approach the ideal texture is to soak the mustard and poppyseed for a few hours to overnight, and then process in a mini-blender attachment provided with some brands, e.g. Oster. The regular blades occupy a much greater volume of a smaller space that also confines the seeds, unlike the regular blender container [much like the effect Bengal has meted out to its inhabitants ]. Less water is required to process the mass, which further aids in comminution.

In a post on Q&A-South Indian breads, one had posted a query as to the usefulness of the mechanized stone grinders, like Shanthi, one sees advertised but has never used. Would someone using these machines comment?

Finally, as regards mustard oil, like olive oil from various provenances matching the corresponding cuisines, viscosity, freshness, acridity etc. all combine for a effect and mouth feel difficult to duplicate here in the U.S. The bottled oil sold here may be ‘improved’ by the addition of a very acrid Korean “mustard” oil sold in small bottles.

Mongo’s posts has evoked such painful nostalgia that one would respectfully request this forum’s permission to enter a recipe for a Bengali tomato chutney. The aim is to help those unfamiliar to this cuisine peek into the world of its flavors.

[For decades, one has obsessed over the agricultural/botanical, social, and historical currents contributing to the evolution of the food ways of Bengal, 1750-1970, or more narrowly, “the cuisine of the Rarh gentry.’” Almost 600 pages of garbage explore just the rice-date palm economy of central Bengal alone, and its contributions to the evolving cuisines of the eastern [Vangala] and western [Rarh] cultures. A line drawn from Mayapur-Nadia to Kolkata defines the watershed and confluence (if these opposing metaphors may be employed) for the evolution of both cooking and the modern Bengali language, and the Rarh gentry [note that this term is used in a specific social sense, and is divorced from the economic, just for preliminary arguments] were the matrix incubating and translating rather impressive currents of change not excluding Modernisation.

From this last emerges the willingness to incorporate elements of Muslim cooking, e.g. onions and yogurt sauces, that then became landmarks and now pave the way for the rapid influx and development of new foodways. One’s generation spanning the mid-century owes the next some musings (if only for the sake of historical continuity) of what we experienced, for this time was a crucible for change, the flames being want, despair and immeasurable violence.

Low and negative agricultural growth rates since the beginning of the 20th century sowed the seeds for the holocaust that began in Bengal in 1933, continued through Partition [1947], and re-emerged 1966-67, and again 1970-71, 71-74 [bangladesh and West Bengal respectively]. Food [or its scarcity] informed the psyche of Bengal in a way that succeeding generations hopefully will never have to experience. (The issues of food and eating touch such raw nerves in those of one’s generation, especially those reared in the devastation of rural Bengal, that one sincerely apologises for intruding such stark and unwelcome strains in this forum)]

Anywhoo, Chitrita Devi, (Banerji) has made a seminal contribution, in the Hour of the Goddess and in Bengali Cooking, addressing some of the deep societal underpinnings of Bengali foodways; one prays that her work not become trivialized by it a long-delayed recognition in the circles of North American gentry interested in foodways and food history. It is in this spirit of trying to inform, that one would venture this recipe, more as a glimpse into Bengal than as a food. In a very clumsy fashion, one would beg friends to understand that any trace of ego is as far removed from this endavor as it is humanly possible; would beg friends to ignore completely the uncouth finger pointing to the moon, and instead enjoy the beauty of the moon. Again, apologies for the uncontrolled verbiage occasioned by the ‘madeleine and cup of linden tea’ of Mongo’s posts.

Respectfully,

Gautam.

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gautam,

i don't know why you are apologizing. i am consistently humbled by the depth of knowledge you have of bengali food (from the ground to the mouth, as it were). i would love to read the 600 pages of "garbage"--are they available anywhere?

re. grinding shorshe and other seeds: my mother agrees with you--the blender is an inadequate substitute. if for no other reason because the blender method of pasting powders the seed husk with the seed and makes it impossible to separate. when you make the paste with the stone grinder it is possible to strain the paste into the oil--thus eschewing any bitterness from the mustard. nonetheless, i have lower standards than you and would rather eat an inferior take on shorshe ilish (or these days cod) than none at all.

that being said, i must lodge a complaint with the gods of bengali cooking against our friend bong who is encouraging people to make shorshe-pomfret!

edited to add: i actually feel that the bigger barrier to true shorshe-fish, or for that matter most bengali cooking, in the u.s is (as you've also identified) the lack of true bengali mustard oil. i made my wife smell the mustard oil back home so she could get a sense of the difference from the limp versions usually available in indian groceries here. (she had the exact same complaint in reverse--while preparing a korean meal for the family-- about the sesame oil available in grocery stores in india!)

regards,

mongo

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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re. grinding shorshe and other seeds: my mother agrees with you--the blender is an inadequate substitute. if for no other reason because the blender method of pasting powders the seed husk with the seed and makes it impossible to separate. when you make the paste with the stone grinder it is possible to strain the paste into the oil--thus eschewing any bitterness from the mustard. nonetheless, i have lower standards than you and would rather eat an inferior take on shorshe ilish (or these days cod) than none at all.
I agree, Gautam is absolutely right about the use of Shil-Nora (the bengali grinding stone) and the production of a better mustard paste that way, but I do also agree with Mongo that I would accept a "lower standard" of the sorshe when the other option is not to have it at all. Actually, I have found that if you leave the blender going for a long time (10-15 minutes) the mustard paste you get is fairly decent. And yes, I do use the Osterizer brand.

Actually not only mustard paste, but all the spices ground using the Shil Nora come out much better too...

that being said, i must lodge a complaint with the gods of bengali cooking against our friend bong who is encouraging people to make shorshe-pomfret!
Hehe -- like I said earlier, I am an anomaly among Bengalis in the sense that I actually like pomfret. Most bengalis would much prefer a sweet-water fish over sea fish any day.
edited to add: i actually feel that the bigger barrier to true shorshe-fish, or for that matter most bengali cooking, in the u.s is (as you've also identified) the lack of true bengali mustard oil. i made my wife smell the mustard oil back home so she could get a sense of the difference from the limp versions usually available in indian groceries here.
That's the reason I carried back 3 bottles on Engine brand mustard oil from my Kolkata trip this time.
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I made Sorshe Perch this weekend. I think it has become a family favorite now. I soaked and ground 200 gms of mustard. I froze leftover paste. This is not an easy job without the correct equipment. My Mini blender works about 4 minutes and then has to be cooled so the process took a bit of time but I did manage to get a decent smooth paste. And all in all the effort was worth the while. My daughter's just begining to eat spicy food and so she had a dollop of cream added to her plate. Of course she had loads of rice with the curry... I wonder if curd would have been better. Any other suggestions?

PS: I almost forgot Thank you Bong for sharing your recipe (Mongo awaiting your sisters microwave recipe)

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