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  • Writer's pictureSomma Ghosh

River BARB FISH Cooked in Mustard Paste (Sorshe Diye PUNTHI Maach)

Updated: Dec 23, 2019

The first recipe is a traditional Bengali small fish cooked in a mustard paste gravy. Featuring here is the PUNTHI Maach also known as the Swamp Barb Fish, found in the Indian sub-continent. Inspite of the fish bones being slightly hard, they sure taste delicious.

Serves 4

Preparation Time : 1 hour

Cooking Time : 30 minutes

Accompaniment : Steamed Rice


  • Punthi Maach(Swamp Barb Fish) 300 grams

  • Sunrise Mustard Powder Packet(Available in 40gm packs in Bengal or your with your local stockist/fishmonger who sources indigenous items from Bengal)....use about 25gms. Alternatively can make your own mustard paste (details in the recipe)

  • Green chilies - 6 pieces

  • Turmeric Powder(Haldi/Holud) - 1/2 teaspoon

  • Red Chili Powder(Mirchi/Lonka Guro) - 1/4 teaspoon(optional for colour and slightly more heat)

  • Salt - As per taste

  • Mustard Oil - 75gms

  • Nigella Seeds(kalojeere/kalonji) for tempering - 1/4 teaspoon



An hour before you begin cooking, take the mustard powder preferably in a ceramic bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix with some water so as to make a smooth paste. Keep this covered at least for an hour before cooking as as to eliminate the bitter taste of mustard.

Alternatively you can make a paste of Mustard seeds (black mustard or rai) in the small mixie jar with some vinegar(to reduce the pungent and slightly bitter taste) salt and a green chili slowly adding water as you grind. Grind till it turns into a fine paste. If you are new to cooking with mustard and might be uncomfortable with its inherent pungency, you could also pour some water into the paste made by you in your kitchen grinder and strain it through a sieve. The strained paste will be much less sharp and pungent as the mustard seed pulp remains behind in the strainer. Another option is to add khus-khus(poppy seed) paste to dilute the pungency of the mustard and to make the gravy creamier in texture.

Clean each fish under running water, making sure to remove the scales and cleaning the stomach and gills thoroughly.

Place all the fish on a large plate and sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt and turmeric powder over each fish. Rub with the tips of your fingers to coat them evenly. Then turn each fish on its other side and repeat the process. This will ensure all the fish is evenly salted. (If you suspect your hands will smell of fish and you won't be tolerating the fishy smell too well, wear a pair of plastic gloves. Otherwise once you have finished handling the fish, wash your hands with soap and then rub some mustard oil on your palms and fingers and wash them thoroughly with soap again).


Cooking Procedure

  1. In a wok or non-stick kadhai, add the mustard oil.

  2. Before you add the nigella seeds into the oil, rub them against your palms. This will release the aroma of the seeds.

  3. Once the oil starts to smoke, you will see some fumes rising, reduce the gas and add the nigella seeds.

  4. Once the nigella seeds start to crackle, gently add the marinated fish into the oil. Take care to gently drop them into the oil so that they don't burst and you don't get hurt with specks of the flying hot oil.

  5. You may cover the wok/kadhai with a lid while the fish fries lightly, in order to keep the oil from spluttering outside.

  6. After about 5-7 minutes, the bottom side of the fish will be fried lightly. Then turn each fish gently on its other side.

  7. Add the mustard paste mixed with water over the fish frying into the wok/kadhai.

  8. Add slit green chilies(avoid slitting them if you don't want too much heat or Jhal as is known in Bengali in the gravy).

  9. Once the mixture is bubbling and steaming and has lost the raw smell, add about 100ml of hot water.

  10. Cover with lid, reduce the flame and let the gravy simmer.

  11. After the water reduces and you can see the oil separating, add some more hot water into the wok/kadhai, to make the gravy. The fish should be covered in the water so as to make them soft. Add some salt and taste the water from the gravy to get a fair idea of the saltiness. It is better not to add too much salt at one go as you can add more later if required.

  12. Open the lid after about 10 minutes and gently shake the wok/kadhai and taste for salt seasoning.

  13. Once the gravy reduces in volume and the fish is cooked properly, check for salt and season accordingly.

  14. Just before turning off the gas, drizzle some mustard oil inside the wok/kadhai.

  15. Serve in a dish and serve with hot steaming rice.

Note: When fresh fish is available, there is no need to fry them beforehand. Otherwise if the fish has been kept for a while in the freezer or you bought it off ice , you may slightly fry the fish on both sides in batches of 4-5 in smoking hot mustard oil and keep aside for the gravy. Crispy fried fish also tastes yum alongwith some ghee and salt with steamed rice or some Pulses/Dal alongwith it).

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