MURI GHONTO is an authentic fish dish for a Bengali. Being a Bengali, I have always loved fish and Muri Ghonto is among my favourite fish dishes. We grew up eating fish (maach in Bengali) almost everyday. Fish, meat and eggs (also onion and garlic) were only restricted on Thursdays due to religious reasons. When my younger sister and I were small, our father used to buy different kinds of fishes (mostly freshwater) on weekend mornings and my mother would do the dressing for each of the kinds and divide those fishes for the whole week by putting into neat plastic containers in the deep-freezer. Fish heads (called muroin Bengali) were kept separately for making a variety of authentic Bengali dishes (including the recipe shared today). My sister and I were very fond of eating the soft and juicy fish brain, so fish head curry was often in the menu. Sometimes my mother would cook the heads with lentils (muro diye dal), sometimes with green leaves, potatoes and mixed vegetables (pui shaak muro diye) and sometimes the Muri Ghonto was cooked with cabbage (muro diye badhakopir ghonto). The fish heads commonly used for all these Bengali dishes are those of Rohu (Latin name: Labeo rohita) or Catla (Latin name: Catla catla). Actually, you can pick up any big carp (or salmon) head for this. I generally prefer heads of fishes weighing 2–3 kg for this.
The recipe which I am going to share today is a heirloom Bengali recipe, and this dish is still made in Bengali weddings or other important occasions. Traditionally, a special kind of rice (called gobindo bhog or govind bhog) is added to the fried fish and everything is cooked together, along with assorted spices. Sometimes, good-quality (fragrant and long-grain) basmati rice can also be added. There is, however, no particular ratio of rice and fish and it depends on each family’s own preference: some like the amount of rice more than that of the fish heads, some like to use rice sparingly. I have not used rice at all in this recipe, as my kids don’t like rice incorporated into this curry. So the amount of rice is really a personal choice. However, for one fish head and a small piece of a 2-kg fish, you should add a little less than ½ cup of rice, if you wish to do so. Do not omit the potatoes.
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Bengali Muri Ghonto (Fish Head Curry)
[White Chinese onions should not be used for this recipe. Indian purple onions, which are less juicy and can be browned easily, should be used for best results. If you have an aluminium or iron kadai or skillet, use it for better browning, instead of the non-stick. Mustard oil can be replaced with any other light oil.]
- One fish head and a small piece of a 2-kg fish
- Potatoes (medium-sized, cut into lengthwise pieces): 10–12 long pieces out of a single potato
- Onion (chopped into medium-sized pieces): 4 tbsp
- Onion (cut into very thin strips): ½ cup
- Ginger paste: ½ tsp
- Dried bay leaves: 1
- Cinnamon stick (one-inch stick): 1
- Green cardamoms: 3
- Cloves: 4
- Peppercorns: 6
- Mustard oil: 6 tbsp
- Salt: According to taste
- Slit green chillies: 4
- Cumin seeds: ¼ tsp
- Fenugreek seeds: 1/6 tsp
- Fennel seeds: ¼ tsp
- Turmeric powder: 1 tsp (divided)
- Cumin powder: ½ tsp
- Coriander powder: ½ tsp
Marinate the fish with ½ tsp turmeric powder and ½ tsp salt for atleast 20 min.
Heat the skillet. Add the mustard oil and heat it to the smoking point. Add the fish and cover immediately (oil sputters at this point, so be careful). The flame should be medium. Open the lid after 5 min and flip the fish heads.
After 5 min, break the fish heads (this is important) and add the chopped onions (4 tbsp). Continue to fry until the onions lose their purple colour and become very soft. Remove the onions and the fish from the oil with a perforated spoon.
In the same oil at medium flame, fry the potatoes, sprinkling a little salt, till the potatoes are well-browned and can be broken easily with a spoon. Remove the potatoes from the oil and keep aside.
In the same oil (if it looks very less, add some more), add the bay leaves, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and fennel seeds. When the cumin seeds look light brown in colour, add the dried bay leaves, cinnamon stick, green cardamoms, cloves and peppercorns.
After these start sputtering, immediately add cumin powder, coriander powder and ½ tsp turmeric powder, mixed with a little water. Stir continuously.
When oil starts separating from the spices, add the thinly cut onions and sauté till the onions lose colour and become very soft. Add the ginger paste and ½ tsp salt.
Notice the change in the colour for the onions. The onions should turn very soft and lose their colour. Crunchy or raw onions are an absolute no-no in Bengali cooking.
The oil should separate from the spices (as shown in this picture). Only then you can add the fish heads, as shown in the next picture.
Add the slit, green chillies, fried potatoes and the fried fish heads. (If you wish to add rice to this, add pre-soaked rice at this stage.) Mix everything together and sauté for 10 min.
Add a little water (about ½ cup in case no rice is added and about 1 cup if rice is added). Cover and cook till the amount of water reduces to one-fourth (in case you add rice, continue cooking for a longer time, until the rice is cooked).
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