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Recipe: Swarupa Dutt's Maachher Kaalia

May 18, 2022 12:21 IST

This Bengali fish curry pays homage to 'Kaalia', the sidekick of dacoit Gabbar Singh in the Bollywood cult film Sholay. Sorry, couldn't resist that.

Truth be told, Kaalia is a rich gravy, that owes its origins to syncretic India, when the culture and cuisine of Muslim invaders were assimilated and absorbed in the food of the country's Hindu inhabitants.

In fact, korma/qorma and rezala, also different styles of curry, are a hat tip to Islamic India. The Mughlai paratha, for instance, is named after the Mughals. Teamed with kosha mangsho (bhuna mutton) or chholar dal (chana dal) it remains a street-food favourite in Bengal, possibly centuries after it was created.

Swarupa Dutt's Maachher Kaalia incorporates onion, garlic and ginger and is cooked with loads of tomatoes. The gravy is spicy, thick and ascends the palate in an orgasmic burst of flavour.

The maachh or fish used for Kaalia are sweet-water ones like rohu or katla, but pomfret and surmai work as well. If you are using pomfret, keep the steaks thick.

Fish is the next to godliness in Bengal and the thicker the steak the smoother your ascent to heaven.

As an aside, rohu/katla generally have a lot of fat on the flesh, unlike pomfret/surmai, which adds flavour to the curry. In fact, if you buy rohu/katla (from a fishmonger) in winter, you can see the white goodness of fish fat (high in omega 3) as the stomach is opened out.

But if you buy frozen fish on an app for instance, the fat is always discarded before packing. Fish fat, much like say, pork fat or lard, enhances the flavour of the dish you are making.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Swarupa Dutt

Maachher Kaalia

Serves: 4


For the fish marination

For the curry



Note: Bengali garam masala is equal portions cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ground to a powder. There is no need to roast the spices.

The taste of the gravy should not be overly sweet, but should have just a hint of sweetness to balance the sour from the tomato paste.

You might consider serving Maachher Kaalia with Swarupa Dutt's Shoshar Torkari.

Those on a low-carb or diabetic diet should omit the potato, sugar, raisins and ghee in the recipe and fry the fish in an air-fryer.