Let me break down the name of the dish first. Puti is a kind of small freshwater fish, Maach means fish in Bengali and Tok means tangy. The selections of fish recipes that one can find in Bengali cuisine are countless. Some are spicy, some are mild, some are loaded with vegetables and others are not. There are also various fish curries/stews that goes with the season. This simple Puti Maach Er Tok (Tangy Fish Stew) is typically prepared in peak summer months. Kolkata summer is brutal and this tangy stew helps to cool down the body and keep the tummy calm.
This particular small freshwater fish is not easily available, unless you stay in Kolkata or Bangladesh. Out here, in US, I buy it from a local Bengali shop. They stock every kind of fish that I grew up eating. Although it is kept frozen, the fishes taste quite good. What a blessing, right? You could always try this same curry with shrimp or any other small fish that you may like.
When crispy fried, Puti Maach tastes wonderful. The bones get brittle and so crunchy. It can make a great bite when paired with a chilled beer. As a kid, we ate it with steamed hot rice and daal. Ma would always save some fried Maach while making the Puti Maach Er Tok. We would walk by the kitchen and gobble a couple of them because it was so hard to resist.
Maach Er Tok (Tangy Fish Stew) can be prepared in several different ways and with several different fishes. However, Ma always prepares a tangy stew with only small freshwater fish. She adds the acidity using green raw mango, green tomato or tamarind. In terms of spice, she always keeps it extremely minimalistic. It might be bizarre for many of you seeing the fish head. I am sorry if it offends you any way. We Bengalis are extremely fond of fish head. I always remove fish heads before serving it to Arvind. The boy has learnt to eat different kind of fishes but fish head is a long shot and I don’t expect it from him.
- 1 lb./500 gm Puti Maach, tiny lake water fish
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- oil for frying the fish
- 1 teaspoon oil to prepare the stew
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
- 3 green chili, slit in half
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
- Drop the Puti Maach in a bowl. Sprinkle half of the salt and half of the turmeric powder. Give it a massage and let it marinate for 30 minutes.
- Pour the tamarind paste to in a different bowl along with 1 cup of water. Give it a mix and keep it aside to be used later.
- Place a non-stick pan on medium high heat and pour oil till ½ inch level. Place a kitchen towel on a plate and keep it ready. Once the oil heats up, very carefully drop the marinated fish. It will start to sizzle and crisp up the fish. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, take the fried fish off the pan and place them on the kitchen towel.
- Take a heavy bottom pan and place it on medium heat. Pour 1 teaspoon of oil. When the oil heats up, carefully (as it will splatter) sprinkle the black mustard seeds along with the green chili. After a couple of seconds, sprinkle the turmeric powder, give it a stir and then, pour the tamarind water mixture. Give a stir and cook for a minute.
- Then pour the taramind water and the sugar. Cook for 3 minutes. Then drop the fried fish (save some fried fish to enjoy as an appetizer) and cook for 2 minutes. Check for salt and add any if you need.
- Switch off the gas and sprinkle some finely chopped cilantro. It’s ready to serve.