Bengali Fish Curry

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Bengali Fish Curry
We really love kalonji! (Read more about kalonji here.) And where it is really outstanding is in Bengali fish curry. The first one we made was shrimp curry – divine. Then we switched to using a firm fillet of dory – very similar to cod. We just went and got frozen fish from the supermarket.

It was really terrific so we had it again the next week. On that day, we had a red pepper in the fridge and thought it would be fun to add it to the curry paste. T says that he doesn’t remember seeing red peppers ever at the market when he lived in India. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t there or that they are never used in India… it just means that he doesn’t remember ever having or seeing red pepper there.

Whether it is authentic in Bengali curry or not, red pepper adds a lovely sweetness to the curry and now we think we will always add it. But OH MY!!! With or without red pepper, you’re going to have to try Bengali fish curry. It is fabulous.

Here is what T did:

Bengali Fish Curry
corrected 25 April 2006 @ 10:12 EDT; revised 10 September 2006

Note that this curry does NOT have any water added.

  • ¼ c mustard oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp kalonji (nigella seeds)
  • 7 dry red chilies
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 6 green Thai chilies
  • ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds, finely ground*
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder*
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • turmeric powder for dusting fish, as little as possible**
  • 1½ lb dory (or any firm fleshed fish)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • coriander leaves (cilantro) and additional green Thai chilies for garnish


  1. Pulverize onions, garlic and ginger and green chilies with a mortar and pestle (or in a food processor) to form a paste.
  2. Place wok (or frying pan) on medium high stove and heat the mustard oil until it is just about smoking.
  3. Add dried red chilies and fry until they are blackened (not burned though)
  4. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and wait 10 or 20 seconds until they pop.
  5. Add nigella seeds and immediately add processed paste. Fry for a good 10 minutes, turning frequently.
  6. Add turmeric, cumin and coriander powders and fry a further 3 or 4 minutes.
  7. Add coarsely chopped tomatoes and red peppers and fry until they become fully incorporated. The result is a coarse curry paste. Up to here can be done ahead of time – in fact that is usually what we do. Just reheat before following the next step.
  8. **Add fish and cook until done, about 5 minutes. Pat the fish dry and cover with turmeric as lightly as possible. Heat oil in a frying pan and place the fish into the medium hot oil. Cook until crispy on the bottom, about 2½ minutes. Turn the fish over (ensure that there is a good crust or the fish has a tendency to break up) Spoon the reheated masala overtop and continue cooking fish until the other side is crispy as well.

Garnish with chopped green chilies and coriander leaves. Serve with steamed rice and a green vegetable such as aloo methi or aloo posta with green beans.

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edit 10 September 2006: The other day, we made a crucial change to how the fish curry is prepared. Before cooking, the fish fillets were patted dry with a paper towel and coated with turmeric. Then they were fried in oil in a frying pan. Once the fish was done, it was then added to the warmed masala. This way, the fish really does hold its shape. (The recipe above has been revised to reflect the change.) **

Oooh!! I wonder what it would be like made with scallops!

click on image to see larger view of thalis with Bengali fish curry, rice and aloo methi

Bengali Fish Curry, Rice, Aloo Methi

edit 25 April 2006 @ 10:20 EDT:

* Please note that even though fenugreek and turmeric were left out of the recipe on the first draft, they were always put into each of the curries. (typo?? Is the cumin powder supposed to be turmeric??) I could have sworn that there was fenugreek and turmeric in the Bengali curry! They are in the photo that I took of the required spices for it….

And I cannot believe that I forgot to mention almost the best part! Make sure that you make lots of fish curry because the leftovers are the most fantastic sandwich filling. Just roughly chop the fish before adding to the sandwich. Butter is not necessary on the bread but a few leaves of red leaf lettuce are a nice addition. I think the Bengali Fish curry sandwich has now become one of my favourite sandwiches, tying for first place with the quintessential cheese sandwich. (Read more about the quintessential cheese sandwich here.)


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8 responses to “Bengali Fish Curry

  1. MrsBrown

    I badly want to try this so that I can have a fish curry sandwich. I think I can probably find all the spices in the local Indian market. Is it necessary to use mustard oil? I’ve never even heard of mustard oil. Can I get mustard oil at the local Indian market?

  2. ejm Post author

    I gather that mustard oil is what is commonly used in Bengali cooking. Any Indian foodstore should have mustard oil. Ask them which one they would use in their cooking. The last time we bought mustard oil, we were advised to get “Dabur” and it is FAR superior to the “hanif” brand we had before.

    Note that the smell of mustard oil is a little funky especially when it’s cooking. And apparently in the US, mustard oil can only be sold with a label that says “for external use only” because of FDA regulations. If that is going to put you off, just use regular vegetable oil – safflower, sunflower, canola…. (Alford and Duguid suggest raw sesame oil in a lot of the recipes in Mangoes and Curry Leaves, but we’ve never tried that. The only sesame oil we have is the dark smoked one.)

  3. tph

    It’s my opinion that mustard oil gives the curry a very distinctive Bengali taste. Without it the flavours would be good but not the same.

    If possible use mustard oil.

  4. Laura Thipphawong

    I tried this recipe the other day, it was amazing, definitely a keeper!

    It IS good, isn’t it, Laura? Glad you like it! -Elizabeth

  5. Francine Geraci

    I just found this recipe – made it and Aloo Methi (because I found methi greens at the Borden St. farmer’s market yesterday!). What a lovely combination, and great to be able to find both recipes so easily. Thank you!

    Thank you for your comment, Francine. I’m so glad you like the Bengali fish curry and aloo methi. (They are awfully good, aren’t they?) Lucky you to have found methi greens at your farmers’ market! We’ve only seen them at the Indian grocery stores. Now I have an urge to try growing them myself too! -Elizabeth


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