Pabda Macher Tel Jhaal or Pabda Macher Jhol is a staple Bengali Fish Curry. Pabda is a delicate fish with extremely flavourful flesh. Hence Pabda Macher Kalo Jeerer Jhol is cooked light with minimal usage of spices. Surprisingly this version of Pabda Tel Jhaal requires No Onion No Garlic and No Tomato at all! The bata moshla/masala (freshly pounded spices) and fresh coriander leaves are the key for this fragrant curry to bring the best flavour from the pabda itself. This simple Pabda Curry is enjoyed with steaming rice, musurir dal (masoor dal/lentil) with dash of lemon juice and Jhiri Jhiri kore kata Alu Bhaja (fried shredded potato) and Potol Alu Posto on side.
Pabda or Pabo (in english) is also known as Bangladeshi Butterfish. The name butterfish arrives from the buttery soft flesh and smooth skin of Pabda fish. It is a small sweet water fish which belongs to catfish family. It has no scales and one large bone in the middle. But unlike large catfish it has some tiny bones along the belly. Though these small bones are very soft and can be chewed but it’s enough to scare off few people (of course they are not living their life to eat fish like me).
There is a good reason why Pabda is included in daily bengali meal. It’s not only because of the taste and flavours but also Pabda has a good nutritional value. Being a small fish Pabda is high on potassium, sodium and magnesium to provide enough minerals to our body. Also it has high protein which is enough to fulfill the daily quota of protein intake of any full grown person. Best thing is pabda has lower fat than similar small fish Parshe yet provides more protein and healthy fat.
Being so high on nutrition value pabda can not be fried or cooked for long time otherwise all goodness of the fish will be gone in the oil and spices. That is another reason that pabda is often cooked in Kalo Jeere Bori er Jhol or Pabda Tel Jhaal without onion, garlic and tomato. Padba should be fried first in hot oil, only 1-2 mins on each side if medium sized or 2-3 mins if large. And when in the gravy it should not be kept for more than 5 mins altogether. Otherwise fish will lose the food value and also there is a chance to get deboned in hot curry.
It is better to dip fish in curry, boil for 3-5 mins (depending on the size) and then keep on standby for 10-15 mins. Thus fish will absorb flavours from curry and curry will be enriched with fish flavour. And that is why fish curries taste better on the second day.
While lower amount of fat in pabda makes it easier for daily consumption at the same time it makes it a bit difficult to cook in less amount of oil. It always sticks to the pan no matter what I do. I’ve bought new pan, used gallon of oil and all in vein! Second (and my biggest) problem is pabda splatter like hell while frying and burns me down (yeah right I ate fish and now I’m carrying the stamp-marks). In fact I’ve always found it’s hard to cook pabda until I learnt some tricks.
First thing is either an old iron/aluminium pan or clean nonstick pan is required. Old iron because pan should be seasoned otherwise fish will stick to the pan.
Secondly, the oil (preferably mustard oil) needs to hot to its smoking point. Then turn the flame to lowest. Add dash of salt, stir to blend and then add fish one at a time. It will help to evaporate moisture quickly before it can splatter. Turn the flame to medium and cook for 2 mins on average.
Third, Pabda needs to be cooked throughly from one side and then only to be flipped to the other side. Otherwise raw fish will stick to pan cause of the smooth thin skin.
Additional trick, use less salt while cooking curry for pabda as we’ve added salt in marinade and also in oil for frying. And add bit of sugar/sweetener to adjust the seasoning.
That’s it for now! I’ll keep you posted if I can find more tricks to handle this tricky pabda.
Watch my elaborated step by step video recipe of Pabda Macher Tel Jhaal or Bengali Pabda Curry.
Read the entire recipe and Notes carefully before you start cooking. Do make sure all ingredients are at room temperature (unless mentioned) and weighed or measured correctly in appropriate weighing scale or measuring instruments such as cups or spoons. Remember these are not regular cups or spoons which is used in daily life.
SERVING & STORAGE:
Excess Pabda Curry can be stored in airtight container and refrigerated. It will taste good for 3-4 days if stored properly. After refrigeration A thin layer of jelly like substance will be formed on top of the curry, don’t worry it is normal. Either bring it to room temperature or warm it up to get the desired consistency.
- Pabda Fish: 4, large
- Nigella Seeds: 1 tsp
- Green Chili: 2
- Bori or Wadi (dried lentil dumpling): ¼ cup
- Coriander leaves: handful
- Mustard Oil: ¼ cup
- Warm Water: 2 cups
- Spice Mix:
- Cumin Seeds: 2 tbsp
- Ginger, fresh: 2", chopped
- Green Chili: 2, chopped
- Ground Spice:
- Turmeric powder: 2 tsp
- Kashmiri Red Chili Powder: 1 tbsp
- Salt: 1.5 tsp
- Sugar: 1 tsp
- Wash and clean fish. Marinate whole fish with 1 tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp red chili powder, ½ tsp salt and few drops of oil. Coat fish well with the spices on both sides. Set aside for 10-15 mins.
- Take cumin seeds, 1 chopped green chili and chopped ginger in a small bowl. Add little water and set aside for 10 mins. Then blend to form a smooth mixture.
- Heat mustard oil in a large frying pan. Sprinkle ½ tsp salt in hot oil. When salt dissolves add one fish at a time very carefully in the hot oil. Be very careful as Pabda splutter in hot oil like any other cat fish. Keep the flame on simmer.
- Pabda is a very soft fleshed fish so it requires very little time to get cooked thoroughly. A large fish like mine will take 3 mins on first side and 2 mins on the second side. So you need to be very careful on the timing while frying the fish otherwise fish will fall apart (like my first one).
- Remove fish from oil and keep aside.
- Now transfer the same oil into a heavy bottomed pan. Fry Bori (wadi) on medium flame until nicely browned. Be careful not to burn.
- Add green chili and nigella seed and stir lightly.
- Add the cumin-ginger mixture into the hot oil and stir well to fry masala on medium flame.
- Add all ground spices and fry till oil separates from masala, about 3-4 mins.
- Add half of water and bring it boil. Adjust seasoning and add rest of water. Boil in high flame.
- Add fish one at a time and previously fried bori (wadi) to the boiling curry. Cook for 3-5 mins uncovered on high flame.
- Switch off the flame and keep the fish curry on stand by for 10-15 mins, covered.
- Before serving add chopped coriander leaves and serve with hot rice and dal. Enjoy!
2. The added salt in hot oil will ensure less sputtering.
3. Another trick to avoid heavy sputtering is heat mustard oil to smoking point then switch the flame off. Add fish one by one, then turn flame on and keep it on simmer.
4. Fish Curry always tastes better if give time to rest. This process of resting helps fish to absorb the flavours from curry and vice-versa.
EAT, LOVE & ENJOY! REPEAT!!!
You may also like these Traditional Bengali Fish Recipes