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Boal Fish with Watercress

We all learn to cook in many different ways. Over the years I have learnt to cook all sorts of dishes from different methods; from following recipes, experimenting by myself in the kitchen, from eating out and trying to recreate some of those dishes at home and from watching others around me cook. This Boal Fish with Watercress curry is one that I learnt from my sister in law years ago, whose mum (my mawoi in Bengali) used to cook this for them all the time. When my mawoi was fit and healthy she used to grow watercress in her allotment and this was her special way of cooking it, thanks to her I am sharing this recipe with you all.

The watercress itself is unlike spinach or other greens, in that it remains crunchy in texture even after cooking. The leaves and stem have a wonderful peppery taste, making this curry truly unique. The curry tastes particularly good when cooked with Bangladeshi fish such as Boal (Wallago) or Ayer (Long Whiskered Catfish). You may cook it with others such as Rohu (Indian Rohu) or even Mrigal (White Carp), but the first two would be my primary suggestions.

I often get asked the question why I add fenugreek seeds to my curries, the short and simple answer, because they add a wonderful aroma and taste to a curry. Like many other types of whole seeds that added to curries or snacks ie. coriander, cumin, fennel etc. these seeds also impart a wonderful unique aroma when added to hot oil and tempered. Tempering the fenugreek seeds at the start of cooking is ESSENTIAL to this dish, without them you will have a nice curry but it won’t taste how this dish should, so basically, don’t skip the seeds!

The idea of this fish curry is basically like any other; you may replace the watercress with greens or a vegetable of your choice, you can swap the fish for any other type of Bangladeshi fish and you will still have a fantastic fish curry. The base masala (minus the fenugreek seeds) is how I tend to cook most of my fish curries, sometimes I vary this by also adding a few cloves of garlic depending on what I’m cooking.

I know that when some people cook for huge quantities (I’m talking catering volumes here, many restaurants/catering companies cook this way), often both ginger and garlic are added to the base masala of fish curries, even garam masala and cumin powder is added when cooking in big quantities, but for home cooking basic spices such as chilli powder, turmeric powder and coriander powder are used. You may use mixed curry powder if you choose to, it’s not essential, but most Bengali people I know add this to 80% of the dishes we cook.

I have shared steps on how to cut the fish in the recipe for those of you that may be totally new to this process. It helps to cut the fish pieces whilst they still partly frozen, this makes slicing a lot easier as otherwise the fish becomes very soft and difficult to cut. Make sure you use a knife that is razor sharp, the bones are hard to cut through with a blunt knife.

I’m hoping that once you have tested this recipe it gives you the confidence to whip up any sort of fish curry in an authentic Bengali style, we are after all renowned for being big on fish the world over. And whilst I may have been born and brought up here in the UK, you can take the gal out of Bangladesh but you can’t take Bangladesh outta the gal (or summink like that, lol). Basically I love a good fish curry, you get me? So let’s start!

Serves 6-8

You will need: for Boal Fish with Watercress

2 large Boal fish steaks
oil (approx 5 tbsp)
a small pinch of fenugreek seeds
1 – 1.25 tsp salt (can be adjusted later if needed)
1 onion (I used a medium onion but didn’t need all of it)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp mixed curry powder (I used Rajah Mixed Curry Powder)
2 bags of salad watercress
water as needed (I used approx 300ml, you may use more/less if you prefer)
5 – 6 green chillies
coriander for garnishing

Method:

Boal Fish with Watercress

The fish steaks I have used are from the widest part of the fish, you can use any part of the fish for this recipe including the head and tail.

Fenugreek seeds are vital to this recipe, without the seeds this dish is incomplete and won’t give the desired taste unique to this dish.

Boal Fish with Watercress

When I intend to peel onions for grating I like to keep the top part of the onion in tact, this makes holding the onion (and grating) much easier.

This onion was fairly large so I didn’t use all of it, I used about 2/3 of the onion, alternatively grate a small onion to begin with.

Pour approximately 5 tbsp of oil into medium size saucepan, I usually eyeball this and just make sure I have enough oil covering the base of my pan.

Once the oil is hot add the fenugreek seeds and wait for them to release their aroma.

Boal Fish with Watercress

Once you can smell the aroma from the seeds add the grated onion, followed by 1 – 1.25 tsp of salt, mix and leave the onions to soften whilst you prepare the fish.

Boal Fish with Watercress

You want to cut the fish into smaller pieces using a very sharp knife as shown in the photos above….

Boal Fish with Watercress

….until you have four smaller pieces.

Don’t forget to remove any fins that may be attached to the fish pieces.

Boal Fish with Watercress

Next using about half a teaspoon of salt, massage the fish pieces gently (top right photo), then top up with cold water (bottom left photo, do not wash off the salt) and leave soaked in the salted water till needed.

By now the onions should be soft and translucent and the oil will have separated from the onions (bottom right photo).

Boal Fish with Watercress

Add the ground spices; 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp coriander powder and 1 tsp mixed curry powder and mix well.

At this point my masala seemed quite dry, so to prevent it from burning I added a splash of water to loosen it.

Cover the masala and leave to cook for a few minutes over a low heat.

Boal Fish with Watercress

Roughly chop the watercress, the leaves tend to become stringy once cooked, this makes it easier to stir and serve.

When you can see the oil has separated from the masala (it will be bubbling over the top), you are ready to add the watercress.

Add the watercress and mix well, leave to cook over a low flame whilst you wash the fish.

Boal Fish with Watercress

Using running cold water wash the fish pieces till the water runs clear, use your hands to massage the fish whilst you wash.

Drain the fish pieces in a colander and then add to the saucepan.

Mix the fish and coat in the masala….

Boal Fish with Watercress

….cover and leave to simmer over a gentle flame till the fish pieces are cooked through.

In the meantime slice the 5 – 6 green chillies and chop some fresh coriander.

Once the fish pieces start to look cooked through and opaque, you want to add water to create the gravy (‘shira’ in Bengali). I added approximately 300ml of water, add less/more depending on how watery you like your fish curries.

Adding water can reduce the amount of salt in the overall curry, so you will need to test for salt after the curry has boiled for the last time.

Boal Fish with Watercress

After adding the water you should notice the oil rise to the top (top left photo).

You can opt to add your sliced green chillies at this point or towards the end, adding at this point infuses the curry with more heat than when they’re added just before removing the curry from the heat.

Cover the curry again and turn up the heat and bring to a boil, boil for 7 – 10 minutes.

Boal Fish with Watercress

Garnish the dish with coriander just before serving.

This curry is best eaten with plain rice, watch the people around your dining table go for seconds once they taste this delicious curry!

Bon Appetit!

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Boal Fish with Watercress
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 2 large Boal fish steaks
  • oil (approx 5 tbsp)
  • a small pinch of fenugreek seeds
  • 1 - 1.25 tsp salt (can be adjusted later if needed)
  • 1 onion (I used a medium onion but didn't need all of it)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp mixed curry powder (I used Rajah Mixed Curry Powder)
  • 2 bags of salad watercress
  • water as needed (I used approx 300ml, you may use more/less if you prefer)
  • 5 - 6 green chillies
  • coriander for garnishing
Method
  1. The fish steaks I have used are from the widest part of the fish, you can use any part of the fish for this recipe including the head and tail.
  2. Fenugreek seeds are vital to this recipe, without the seeds this dish is incomplete and won't give the desired taste unique to this dish.
  3. When I intend to peel onions for grating I like to keep the top part of the onion in tact, this makes holding the onion (and grating) much easier.
  4. This onion was fairly large so I didn't use all of it, I used about ⅔ of the onion, alternatively grate a small onion to begin with.
  5. Pour approximately 5 tbsp of oil into medium size saucepan, I usually eyeball this and just make sure I have enough oil covering the base of my pan.
  6. Once the oil is hot add the fenugreek seeds and wait for them to release their aroma.
  7. Once you can smell the aroma from the seeds add the grated onion, followed by 1 - 1.25 tsp of salt, mix and leave the onions to soften whilst you prepare the fish.
  8. You want to cut the fish into smaller pieces using a very sharp knife as shown in the photos above....
  9. until you have four smaller pieces.
  10. Don't forget to remove any fins that may be attached to the fish pieces.
  11. Next using about half a teaspoon of salt, massage the fish pieces gently (top right photo), then top up with cold water (bottom left photo, do not wash off the salt) and leave soaked in the salted water till needed.
  12. By now the onions should be soft and translucent and the oil will have separated from the onions (bottom right photo).
  13. Add the ground spices; 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp coriander powder and 1 tsp mixed curry powder and mix well.
  14. At this point my masala seemed quite dry, so to prevent it from burning I added a splash of water to loosen it.
  15. Cover the masala and leave to cook for a few minutes over a low heat.
  16. Roughly chop the watercress, the leaves tend to become stringy once cooked, this makes it easier to stir and serve.
  17. When you can see the oil has separated from the masala (it will be bubbling over the top), you are ready to add the watercress.
  18. Add the watercress and mix well, leave to cook over a low flame whilst you wash the fish.
  19. Using running cold water wash the fish pieces till the water runs clear, use your hands to massage the fish whilst you wash.
  20. Drain the fish pieces in a colander and then add to the saucepan.
  21. Mix the fish and coat in the masala....
  22. cover and leave to simmer over a gentle flame till the fish pieces are cooked through.
  23. In the meantime slice the 5 - 6 green chillies and chop some fresh coriander.
  24. Once the fish pieces start to look cooked through and opaque, you want to add water to create the gravy ('shira' in Bengali). I added approximately 300ml of water, add less/more depending on how watery you like your fish curries.
  25. Adding water can reduce the amount of salt in the overall curry, so you will need to test for salt after the curry has boiled for the last time.
  26. After adding the water you should notice the oil rise to the top (top left photo).
  27. You can opt to add your sliced green chillies at this point or towards the end, adding at this point infuses the curry with more heat than when they're added just before removing the curry from the heat.
  28. Cover the curry again and turn up the heat and bring to a boil, boil for 7 - 10 minutes.
  29. Garnish the dish with coriander just before serving.
  30. This curry is best eaten with plain rice, watch the people around your dining table go for seconds once they taste this delicious curry!

 

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Comments 4

  1. Leena
    Reply

    Oh WOW!!!!!..what can I say….this dish was absolutely AMAZING!!!…I made this sunday night…and have had to buy another 2 packs of watercress to make some more.. (its only tuesday)…both hubby and son demolished this!!!…they loved it so much!!

    Bonus cause it’s so quick to make…I loved the aroma whilst cooking it!!!

    Making another batch tomorrow!!!….thank you for ALL your delicious recipes!!! Xx

    10 October, 2017
  2. Rukshana
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I always found the task of cooking fish curries daunting, but with the help of your website and videos, I ‘m learning so much. Can’t wait to try this!

    30 September, 2017
  3. Banglish Moheela
    Reply

    Bengali fish – such a speciality but now so easy to make thanks to Afelia Apa! She is an Apa that I never had – so many years after being a newly wed (no longer am I new) , no one could tell me how to make fish other than “the usual moshla” – what is the usual moshla?? Not my mother, nor my mother in law, nor my friends (who are in the same position as me), nor the other aunties or bunties could explain to me in my terms. I need some measurements as a basis – not being told ‘abit of everything’. I don’t recognize Bengali fish and people haven’t let me ‘cook it’ – maybe for fear of expensive fish going wrong! Afelia explains it all so well and like a great friend, her recipes provide a great guideline.

    So I found some frozen tilapia in Tesco and used this recipe to make a standard fish curry without the watercress (as I had none) and had to quickly make it whilst I had the house to myself – so if it went wrong, I could hide the evidence! But it went down a treat and tasted just like a great home mass curry! Everyone was impressed and even I licked my plate clean. I didn’t add the watercress or the mixed curry powder and still tasted amazing.

    I have made fish curry using other recipes and using English fish but this was the first time, everyone was happy! Hubby he could tell by the smell that it would taste amazing and my father in law said it was very tasty! Result and a half! Many thanks Apu. May Allah bless you for sharing! I have tried the lamb and potatoes, the aubergine and the chicken karahi recipe and all have been good

    29 September, 2017
  4. Run
    Reply

    This recipe inspired me to cook watercress with fish ( Pabda) and it worked really well so jazakallahkhair for helping to find another way to cook with fish 🙂

    27 September, 2017

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