If you are on a soup spree, this New-Age Bengali Macher Jhol will give you a novel soup recipe out of a very traditional Bengali dish. It’s no secret that Bengalis love their Macher Jhol (fish in broth) and even I am going to accept this with pride. A simple, light Macher Jhol is hands down my all-time favourite. The Macher Jhol is always packed with tons of flavour and is quite nutritious. River-water fish (mostly) and minimal spices perk up the flavours of individual ingredients in the Jhol or stew. Perhaps, as people say, eating a hearty Macher Jhol regularly, might be the secret behind a Bengali woman’s glossy hair and shiny skin!
More than a dozen different recipes of the humble Bengali Macher Jhol exist, each unique in its own right. Some recipes call for cinnamon, cloves and green cardamoms, whereas some use a combination of cumin seeds, ginger paste and a bay leaf. Some are cooked without onion and garlic, whereas there are others that use them. Some have mustard-seed paste, whereas other versions use nigella seeds (Kalo Jeere in Bengali) as the major flavour-enhancer in the Macher Jhol recipe.
Traditional recipes are important, and as you know by now, I love to document them. But sometimes, tweaking these traditional recipes for a change adds more creativity to food and makes them apt for the new age. The traditional recipe of the Macher Jhol or Bengali Fish stew gets a makeover in my kitchen with the addition of a Greek classic technique called Avgolemono, which translates to “egg and lemon.” In this technique, warm soup is added in batches to a basic mixture of egg and lemon juice. While the egg makes it more nourishing and gives volume to the soup, the acidity of the lemon juice cuts down on any strong smell of fish and helps in balancing the fatty flavours of a big-sized fish or that of the fatty parts of the fish: the fish brain or the belly, for instance. Avgolemono instantly makes a thin broth silky, creamy and a bit tart. Although it is mostly used for chicken, it tastes great in fish-soup recipes as well.
One important factor using the Avgolemono is to decide on the ratio of egg to lemon. This is a deciding factor to make any soup or sauce that calls for Avgolemono, as this ratio decides the thickness of a sauce or soup. Also, there are different ways to make Avgolemono, but let’s get things straight. Just by lightly beating a mixture of eggs and lemon juice with a fork and incorporating it in this soup will take this soup a notch higher. As we do not want this soup to be too thick or lemony, we will use a light Avgolemono for this soup.
Greek technique and Indian flavours come together beautifully in this unique New-Age Bengali Macher Jhol. The idea came to my mind because my kids are so used to eating a typical Bengali Macher Jhol that they refuse to eat it at times. But most Bengali mothers are adamant about their kids’ meals, especially when it comes to eating fish. And I can’t emphasize on the extent to which a Bengali mother would go, to feed their kids a humble Macher Jhol everyday.
I used offal (fish heads and a small portion of the solid fat or “oil” from the stomach of a Katla fish) for this Macher Jhol recipe, although fish belly of any river fish will be perfect, too! If you don’t want to use the stomach fat, use some of the fish skin instead. It is important to understand that too much of any ingredient will spoil the dish.
Well, necessity is also the mother of innovation, I guess! I came up with this creamy and tart version of the Bengali all-time-favourite Macher Jhol, so that my kids could eat it better. They liked it!
New-Age Bengali Macher Jhol Soup Using the Greek Technique Avgolemono
- 1/2 Fish head of a 2.5 kg river fish like Katla or Rohu (chopped and gills removed)
- 1 tsp The solid fat or “oil” from the insides of the belly (after discarding the intestines from them)
- 1 Minced onion (medium-sized)
- 1/2 tsp Garlic (minced)
- 1/2 tsp Ginger paste
- 1 Tomato (finely chopped)
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp Green chilli paste
- 2 Slit green chillies (optional)
- 1/2 Medium-sized potato
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 l Warm water
- 1 Egg
- 2.5 tbsp Lemon juice
- 8 tbsp Mustard oil
- Marinate the fish with half the amount of turmeric and 1 tsp salt. Keep it aside for 15 min.
- Heat mustard oil till it is very hot. Reduce the flame and fry the fish, covering the lid. Open the lid after 5 min and flip the fish carefully. Keep it for 5 min. The head should be fried properly from both the sides. Remove the fried fish from the hot oil and keep aside.
- In the same oil, fry the potatoes with ¼ tsp salt. The potatoes should also be fried on both the sides and should turn brownish. Remove from the oil and keep aside.
- In that oil, add the bay leaf and the cumin seeds. As soon as the cumin changes colour to a light brown, add the garlic and sauté briefly. Now add the onion, rest of the salt and turmeric powder. Sauté until the onions are mushy.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté till the tomatoes are well-blended with the cooked onions.
- Add the fried fish heads and fish oil or skins and continue cooking for 5 min on a high flame, sautéing continuously.
- Add the fried potatoes and the slit green chillies (if using). Reduce the flame and cook for a few minutes.
- Pour the warm water, stir, cover and let this come to a boil on a medium flame. Open the lid and continue boiling for 5 min. Switch off the flame and let the Macher Jhol come to room temperature. Take out the fish heads and carefully remove the brain, skin and the meat from the insides. Add this back to the soup and discard the bones. Blitz the entire Macher Jhol along with the potatoes. Add warm water if too thick. In that case, don’t forget to check the salt and adjust accordingly.
- For the Avgolemono, whisk the egg and the lemon juice together for 1 min, using a fork.
- To this Avgolemono, add the blended soup of the Macher Jhol in batches and stir well. Reheat on a low flame so that the Jhol is hot enough to eat. Do not boil the Jhol at this stage.
- Slurp the soup just like that and in small amounts.
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