Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cod Sautéed Bengali-style: Fantastic Food for Brain Health!

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Bengali-style cod sauteed with mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric and green chilies

If you've ever traveled to Bangladesh or West Bengal (in India), you'll know how much Bengalis love fish - whether it's steamed, fried or cooked in a curry, fish is always a Bengali favorite! Bengalis' second love affair is with mustard in all its forms - mustard oil, mustard powder and mustard seeds (not the condiment we think of as "mustard" in the U.S.).

It's no wonder then that fish sauteed in a mustard sauce (Shorshe Mach) is one of the most popular Bengali dishes! I know if you haven't ever heard of this recipe, it must sound....interesting...but do give it a try! I think you'll be surprised how well the flavors of mustard seeds, turmeric, and cumin go with white fish!

Perhaps most important, this is one of the best foods you could eat for a healthy brain. Both fish and mustard seeds are excellent sources of omega 3s, and mustard seeds also pack a punch of antioxidants. Combine that with that with the wonder-spice turmeric, which prevents Alzheimer's, and you have a super brain food! (Turmeric and mustard seeds are also cancer fighting, and green chilies and mustard seeds speed up the metabolism, so this is one firecracker of a healthy dish!!)

Traditionally this would be cooked in mustard oil, but since a good mustard oil is very difficult to find in the U.S and has a very strong (acquired) taste, I have used extra light olive oil in this recipe. Bengalis would also make this with bhetki or hilsha (ilish) fish, but that's not available here, so I use any white fish. This is an adaptation of a Madhur Jaffrey recipe.

One other interesting fact about Bengali food: Bengalis don't eat much naan (bread) like other South Asians do - in Bengal, it's all about rice, rice, RICE! Many Bengalis eat rice at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So serve this fish with piping hot rice :).

Ingredients for the fish:
  • 1 lb cod or any white fish such as halibut, tilapia, mahi mahi, or rockfish
  • 2 tsp extra light olive oil (NOT extra virgin - it shouldn't have that strong a taste)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper/red pepper powder
Ingredients for the sauce:
  • 2 Tbs mustard powder (sometimes labeled ground mustard. Note this is a spice powder, NOT the condiment mustard or mustard paste).
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne/red pepper powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs water, then 1/2 cup water
  • 4 Tbs extra light olive oil (again, not extra virgin)
  • 1.5 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel powder/ground fennel (you can use seeds but I prefer the flavor of powder)
  • 2 slit green chilies (small Serrano peppers work well; don't use Thai chilies as they are too hot!)
1. Cut the fish into 4 pieces (if it is in one piece). Rub the fish with 2 tsp extra light olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Make sure to coat both sides.

2. In a bowl, mix the mustard powder, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp turmeric, and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix in 2 Tbs water to make a paste. Now mix in the 1/2 cup of water. Set aside.

3. Heat 4 Tbs extra light olive oil over medium heat in a deep skillet. When it's hot, toss in the mustard seeds. When they start to sizzle and pop, which will be in just a few seconds (you don't want to burn them!!), add the cumin seeds and the fennel powder. Give it a quick stir and let sizzle for a few seconds.

4. Now pour in the mustard-water mixture and add the slit green chilies. Let this mixture simmer about half a minute, then place the fish pieces in the pan.

5. Make sure the fish is coated in the sauce. Simmer the fish until it is soft and flaky (make sure to turn it over to cook both sides). Cooking time will vary depending on the type of fish you use and the thickness of the cut. When the fish is starting to fall apart, it is done.

6. If the fish is done, but the sauce is still watery, remove the fish (use a slotted spoon so the liquid stays in the pot) and place on a plate.

This is what the fish will look like when it's done. See how it's flaking apart? I removed the fish so the sauce can continue simmering a minute or two.

 You'll want to simmer the sauce until it is thick. When the sauce is thick, it has a rich, even buttery and intense flavor. Watery sauce just won't taste good!

This is what the sauce should look like. It looks oily, but that's olive oil, so it's fine (and tastes terrific)! Yes, the sauce will reduce a good bit, but that means it's rich and delicious :-)
7. When the sauce is done, remove from the stove, and add the fish back to the pot. Spoon the sauce over the fish so it is well coated. Serve with hot Basmati rice.

I love how the little mustard seeds crunch in my mouth. I think the texture of this sauce is my favorite part :).


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