With Bengal being the flavour of the season, be it in Bollywood, fashion, travel or, for that matter, the new Bengali restaurant, Bong Bong, that has opened in town, it’s not strange if you’ve been trying to toss up a Bengali spread at home. But, do you often find your mustard-flavoured baked fish too bitter or your Bengali-style mutton curry too spicy? “Small mistakes in the ingredients or the techniques can ruin the taste of even the simplest dishes,” says chef Gopal Krishan, the Bengali cuisine specialist at The Oberoi.
Here are five things you must know about cooking Bengali food:
1. To make the perfect mustard paste, instead of using only black mustard, soak equal portions of black and white mustard overnight. When you crush it in the mixer, add a green chilli, salt and a little crushed ice instead of water. Your mustard paste won’t taste bitter.
2. When making the quintessential Chingri Malai Curry or Bengali-style prawns in coconut gravy, apart from the coconut gravy, use a little bit of poshto or poppy seed paste to make the gravy thicker and creamier.
3. When making Kosha Mangsho or thick red mutton curry, do not go overboard with the chillies. Before you fry the spices, add a spoonful of sugar in the oil and let it caramalise. This will automatically give the dish a nice brown tinge, but in a healthy way. If you must use chillies, go for Kashmiri degi mirch.
4. Do not use readymade garam masala. Authentic Bengali garam masala is a powder of crushed small cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Do not use the big black cardamom or badi elaichi.
5. If you are planning to set some mishti doi or sweet curd at home, always use fresh cow’s milk and not buffalo’s milk. Curd made from buffalo’s milk, as found in sweet shops, is unhealthy due to the high fat content and may leave you bloated.
Banana Leaf Steamed Bhetki
200 gm Govindo Bhog rice
5 gm sugar
40 gm Kasundi (mustard sauce)
1 Gondhoraj lebu (scented lemon)
1 dry coconut
1 green chilli
5 gm ginger-garlic paste
20 ml mustard oil
900 gm bhetki fish fillet
Method: Cook the Govindo Bhog rice. Take kasundi, salt, chopped green chilli, ginger-garlic paste, sugar, coconut and mustard oil in a bowl and mix well to make marination. Now, marinate the sliced bhetki fillet in this mixture for two hours. Take some rice and make a small dumpling in a cylindrical shape. Take marinated bhekti slices and put two of them over the rice dumpling, and wrap it in a banana leaf. Steam in a steamer for five minutes. Serve it with a wedge of Gondhoraj lemon.
–By Chef Gopal Krishan