I woke up this morning craving two things; one was a hot cup of chai and the other, well Ayer maas or Long-whiskered catfish as it is known in English. So while, I sipped on my chai at seven o clock in the morning, I decided I was going to cook Ayer maas bhuna for this evening’s dinner.
I find it quite amusing that the things that nowadays I wake up craving things I was revolted by during my childhood. No, I didn’t like Ayer or any other big fish during my childhood.
Growing up, fish or maas in Bengali was what my diet mostly consisted of. I grew up eating small fish, Bangladeshi variants of small catfish, carp etc. I wouldn’t eat fish that was visibly oily so my palette was limited but I was more than content. It wasn’t until my late teenage years I started eating big fish or boro maas as we Sylheti’s call it and that would only be once in a while or if there wasn’t any other alternative. My second pregnancy was what peaked the change, a lot of change and it was then I was properly introduce to Ayer maas. Now, it’s been a few years I started cooking, eating big fish and yes even oily fish and now Ayer is one the I love the most.
What I love about Ayer is that it’s very versatile due to it mild flavour. I cook it in no-oil Hutki dishes, fried on it’s own or even bhuna like this recipe. And, I can’t say the same about many other Bangladeshi fish. Now, as for this recipe, although maas bhuna is common amongst Bangladeshi people, it’s not in my family and I came upon it by matter of trial and error. Until recently I didn’t know that the term maas bhuna already existed. Yes, I live in an alternative world most of the time.
The Mr. doesn’t like any curries that are water based or anything that has a very runny broth/gravy and initially he was only accustomed to slightly seasoned, shallow-fried Ayer maas that my amma, his mother in-law would prepare for him when we visited. However, one day at home, I really wanted to eat Ayer maas cooked in a spicy saalon (curry) but knowing he wouldn’t eat it if it was runny, I decided to make the gravy thick and first fry the fish so it still has that fried texture on the outside. And voila, it was a success, we both very much enjoyed it but surprising him more than me. Surprisingly, because he’s a very fussy eater even though he would contest the notion.
Living in London, it’s readily available frozen in Bangladeshi grocers, my usual spots are down Chapman Street E1. However, this maas bhuna recipe will work with any firm-fleshed white fish. I’ve tried it with Cod, Pollock etc.
- 350g Ayer cutlets
- 125g Onion, finely chopped
- 20g Garlic, finely grated
- 100g Tomato, diced
- 1 tsp. Ground Coriander
- 1/4 tsp. Ground Cumin
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp. Chilli powder
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp. Turmeric powder
- 1/2 + 1/4 tsp. Salt
- 5g Green Chillies, pierced
- 4 tbsp. Mustard oil
- First, season the fish in a bowl with 1/8 tsp each of Chilli powder, Turmeric powder andv1/4 tsp Salt. Let the fish sit for fifteen minutes covered.
- Next, using a shallow wide pan, shallow fry the seasoned fish in three table spoons of oil over medium heat, until brown on each side. Approximately 7-8 minutes on each side. Once fried, drain on paper towel.
- Add the remaining oil in the same pan and once heated, fry the onion over medium heat for five minutes or until slightly browned. The add the garlic, fry for a minute before adding the tomatoes and frying for another few minutes until tomatoes are soft.
- Next add all the spices, the remaining of the salt and fry for two-three minutes. then cover the pot, turn the heat to the lowest setting and let the mixture cook for ten minutes, stirring every few minutes.
- Now, add the chillies and fry for a minute. Then add the fish, one piece at a time and carefully turn sides to coat each side in the onion mixture. Once all the pieces are in, add 80ml of hot water, bring to the boil over high heat, then turn the heat to the lowest setting, cover and let it cook for ten minutes. Give the pan a shake every few minutes to make sure nothings sticking to the bottom of then pan.
- After ten minutes all the water should have reduced to a thick paste. Turn the heat off and add the fresh coriander. Cover and let it sit fifteen minutes before serving.