The senses get captivated and the soul smiles with glee as it drifts back to my early years, every time, every instance I cook this darling dish, Hutki Shira. “Darling” is not a word, I believe I used before to describe food, but I can’t think of any other word that is more fitting to describe what Hutki Shira is for me.
I’m pretty sure everyone has one or a few dishes that have always been there and stay a staple as the years go by. For myself, Hutki Shira is one those dishes, that has been always there and always will Insha Allah. As a child, it was one of the few dishes I ate, I would ask for it all the time, at home and when I visited my gran’s house, I would cry when it would finish and amma wouldn’t cook it again then and there, you could almost say I was obsessed with it. So much so, that it became a part of my identity, my relatives would refer to me as the girl who only eats Hutki Shira and that wasn’t far from being the truth. It was comforting to my soul then and still is now. Even though I don’t eat it as often as I use to, it is something that I turn to when the spirit craves wholesome nourishment.
It’s eaten a lot in my amma’s house and even in my extended family, not just Hutki Shira but Hutki dishes on the whole. And we all love it, so it was quite a shock to find out that Hutki, the dry fermented fish, is actually an acquired taste, even in its own native land, Bangladesh. I know the smell is very pungent and a lot people are deterred by it, but as for myself, it fills me up with warmth and nostalgia.
It was one of the first Bangladeshi dishes I was eager to learn how to cook and it took me some time, as the advice I got varied. Amma said “no union”, but gran said “add a little onion or else how will the broth thicken?”, friends added oil plus oily fish, while I thought “Hutki Shira never has oil in it!”. Thus, my initial attempts never resembled what I grew up eating. However, over the years, I’ve come to know that making Hutki Shira is very simple when it comes to the method, but it does require understanding the balance between the pungent stock that’s made by simmering the Hutki in water and the vegetables you add to it after. The Hutki stock, a leafy green, potatoes and the fish/Prawns are the usual suspects, but after that I don’t know of any rules regarding what other veg you can add. However, my Hutki Shira almost always has the addition of Okra, Aubergine and sweet Red peppers. I have added others, but these are the perfect companions for me. As for the Hutki, I have specified how much I used today, but ultimately it depends on the strength of the Hutki. The batch I have at the moment isn’t as strong as what I’ve had previously so I’m having to use more. I like my Hutki Shira hot, but it’s as delicious with less spice. And lastly, I alternate between using Fish and prawns, but my absolute favourite is using the head of Ayer, cut into small pieces. Today, however, I’ve used prawns as the little ones love their Prawns and aren’t keen my my fish heads. I’ve never tried Hutki Shira with oily fish, but do often use non-oily, firm fleshed fish cutlets, such as Ayer.
- 30g Hidol Hutki, rinsed
- 10g Garlic, crushed
- 50g Onion, blended to a puree with 60ml of water
- 150g Baby Potatoes, scrubbed and halved
- 100g Baby Spinach
- 100g Aubergine, cut into bite size pieces
- 80g Red Pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 80g Okra, Cut into 1-ich pieces
- 10g Red Scotch Bonnet, crushed
- 1.5l Freshly boiled water
- 1 tbsp. Chilli powder or to taste
- 2 tsp. Salt or to taste
- 1/8 tsp. Turmeric
- Put a 3 litre pot over a low-medium heat and once heated, place the Hutki evenly flat in the dry pot. Dry toast for a few minutes on each side or until the Hutki becomes soft and pungent. Then carefully, add 1 litre of the boiled water, the garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. once boiling, cover with a lid, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Then, strain the mixture reserving the stock and setting it aside. You should have approximately 600-650ml of stock. Discard of the bones and the Garlic.
- Place the pot back over low heat and add the Onion puree, Salt, Chilli Powder, Turmeric and cook covered for 5 minutes.
- Next, stir in the Potatoes, Spinach and mix thoroughly into the onion. Add in the reserved stock plus 350ml of boiled water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Then, cover with a lid, turn the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Now, add the remaining vegetables, Prawns, Scotch Bonnet and cook for a last 10 minutes. Turn the heat off.