Monday, September 17, 2012

Rajashree Banerjee’s Tel Koi, Climbing Perch Cooked with an Extra Dash of Mustard Oil

Now that I look back, I see that I had signs to be a food lover pretty early on life. Being a Bengali most probably established that love even more. Food, after all is a dialect in the Bengali language.

I enjoyed absolutely loved each time I accompanied my parents to the fish market. The maacher bajaar was such a vibrant place to be. I’d be this proverbial wide-eyed, bushy-tailed girl each time I’d go there.

My parents would even let me touch the fish displayed there. Except for one. The live and kissing Koi maach.


Koi is like that hard-hearted, emotionless aunt every family has. Tough from the outside, but as you discover it, you see how sweet and tender it is from the inside.

Its a much underrated fish compared to other more easily available fish we Bengalis eat.

I’d watch with utmost awe as the maach wala would carefully pick from the big, round tub the live Koi my parents chose to buy. He would then beat each on the head with a wooden mallet, lightly at first and then one last phhhaaataaak to kill the feisty Koi. The Koi doesn’t give up easily. It’d still move its tail and open its mouth to utter some last words of profanity for us killers.

IMG_6868We don’t get fresh Koi here, and neither is walking up to the freezer section of the Bangladeshi store is as thrilling as a maacher bajaar from childhood. But I am thankful to the Koi Gods (or Goddesses) that I am able to get this fish here in Toronto. I am also thankful to kitchen Goddesses like Rajashree Banerjee who are eager to share their family recipes with complete strangers.

I will admit to making small changes to Rajashree’s recipe. But the framework is hers. The only thing her recipe did not have for the Tel Koi was ginger, which when I Googled for the recipe, found Sandeepa’s and saw she had used ginger in her recipe. Which I did too.

Ingredients for Rajashree Banerjee’s Tel Koi are:

4 good-looking Koi fish, scales removed and cleaned
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 + 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
4-5 whole green chillies, sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2-3 bay leaves
Half cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin mustard oil

Grind together the cumin seeds and black peppercorns. Start by dry grinding and then add water, little by little. I added a green chilli for extra fire.

IMG_6863Rub salt and turmeric on each Koi. If there is any extra water from washing the fish, make sure you pat dry the fish.

Heat a frying pan till it starts smoking. Now add the half cup oil and let it heat up too. This way, when you fry any fish, you will not damage the skin. Because the pan is smoking hot, the fish will come out clean. Koi is known for its thick, beautiful skin. You don’t want to damage that. Its delicious to eat.

Koi will splutter and burst when put in hot oil, make sure you have a lid on on the pan. I ALWAYS fry Koi this way.

IMG_6873When the oil is really hot, release the fish in it, carefully not to burn your fingers. Cover and fry on high for 2-3 minutes. Turn. Give another 2-3 minutes to the other side. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep.


In the same oil, throw in the bay and couple of green chillies. Give them a few seconds to season the oil.

IMG_6878Now add the wet ground cumin and black pepper. Sauté the spices on medium heat till oil separates from them. Add the grated ginger and turmeric.

IMG_6880IMG_6881Mix everything well. Season with salt. Add about one and half cups of water to the spices. Let it come to a boil.


IMG_6888Release the lightly fried fish into the sauce. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes without covering the pan. Check seasoning, add salt if necessary. The sauce would have reduced to half its original quantity. Turn the heat off.


IMG_6892Drizzle couple of spoons of raw mustard oil on the fish. That completes the Tel Koi dish, which literally means Koi with an extra dash of mustard oil.

Serve the Tel Koi hot with plain white rice.


Bong Mom said...

Chobi gulo eto sundor hoyeche na ki bolbo. Peppercorn+Cumin paste sounds like a wonderful new flavor. Will apply the same in some other dish and see

Anonymous said...

Seriously mukhe jol aashe gelo. Amar husband aiye shob khabei nah but he doesn't mind if I make it for myself .. kintu pete toh hobe. Ami ebar khoja shuru korbo .