i was sitting in front of my computer, working and completely absorbed, when it came out of nowhere and spooked me. i suddenly had to make fish kochuri. i don’t know how to make these delicious pastries with fish stuffed in it. this was a fiend though that was hellbent on scaring me into submission. think the only time i’ve had fish kochuri or maachher kochuri, as we call it in bengali, was almost ten years ago. maybe more.
it was a delightful afternoon i remember, of good food, lots of chatting, and not being productive in any way. my cousin, technically second cousin on my mother’s side, but more like an elder sister, who was always great fun to hang out with and who very kindly shared her stash of mills and boon with me, served a fantastic meal. though i am really the sort who falls upon the meat, it was the fish that day which got me.
my cousin’s mother in law is a wonderful cook. she had made a very unusual fish curry with lemon; and my cousin, the fish kochuri, following her ma in law’s recipe. i won’t forget that taste, and may never be able to replicate it. however, today, i had no choice. a whiny reedy voice kept badgering me, “make the kochuri, make the kochuri, make the…”
my cousin had once explained to me the process and her mother in law’s tips. i’d attempted to rustle up fluffy delicious fish kochuri. of course, it had been a disaster. i tried not to remember that.
we didn’t have a suitable freshwater fish like bhetki/bekti or rui/rohu. but we did have red snapper. it’s sacrilege to not get the right fish for a particular dish, i was haunted by visions of snarky look on great bengali cook’s face. fish kochuri with snapper? huh. well, that’s what it was going to be. i asked ibi, our cook, to make the stuffing with it. ibi had a trick or treat look in her eyes. she knows how things can go horribly wrong when i go to the kitchen.
we got past that hurdle even and finally i was rolling out dough, not exactly circular, then placing fish stuffing on it, covering it with another supposedly circular piece of dough and stretching it to seal the ends all around, then making little folds in it as i imagined they’re made, a vision of the twirly edge of curry puff in mind, and fingers not at all nimble moving clumsily.
it was scary.
the oil was hot. ibi had an unconvinced look on her face. anything could have happened. i said a prayer and gently dropped a kochuri into the oil, which must be not too hot, not too cold, just right… you know how it is when you’re trying to deep fry doughy things to a certain texture and doneness. it’s hellish.
i also pretended that i was an expert at this twist the edge thing, that my fingers were long and slender and i was just plain marvelous at pinching dough and turning it at equal intervals, then folding it just so. the end product, though, refused to bear witness to this expertise. but, despite our not quite getting the oil temperature right till the third kochuri, nothing fell apart. instead, they simmered, sizzled, puffed up, browned gently and came out of the kadai looking not bad.
i quickly called my daughter to try one. she is good with telling you what tastes fine and what doesn’t. i usually get a blank look, then a “maybe you should add a little…” or some such thing. she quickly finished one, then she asked for another one, then another. she too is not really a fish person.
i was relieved. i took several pictures and instantly decided to write about my halloween experience.
when we were kids and living in a tiny little oil town called duliajan in assam, we used to go for halloween trick or treat rounds every year. those days the big cities in india hardly even knew of halloween, and we felt mighty cool. a canadian neighbour of ours, a lovely lady, croser aunty, would take about thirty of us in a company mini truck (vanette, that’s what we called it) to several homes in the township, and we’d go with our baskets and bags, sing songs, get chocolates, toffees, apples, etc., in return.
we all had to be in fancy dress. i had no idea that halloween had anything to do with ghosts and ghouls. i remember i went as a fairy queen for the last one, when i was maybe ten years old. i had red wings and i just wanted to look pretty.
fish kochuri / maachher kochuri
the recipe is not from an expert. it might taste good though.
red snapper (or bekti/rohu/a tasty white fish) 750 g
bay leaf 1
green cardamom 2/3
small piece of cinnamon
red onions 3 medium, diced
ginger paste 2 tbsp
a little garlic paste is optional, i didn’t use it
cumin powder 1 tbsp (you can also put 1 tsp cumin powder and later add 2/3 tsp or more roasted cumin powder)
green chillies 2/3, finely diced
a little vinegar, say 2 tsp
pinch of sugar
salt to taste
oil for frying
first boil the fish with a couple of bay leaves, a little turmeric powder, salt, and one onion. drain, remove onion and bay leaves, and flake the fish. please make sure there aren’t any bones in it, no one’s ever going to let you forget it if there are.
i had yearned for the taste of roasted cumin powder, a very west bengali thing that aromatic spice, always to be added at the end and just mixed in, it sort of makes the taste “bengali” or so i think. this morning i heard how a hungarian gentleman refused to have bread and biscuits flavoured with anything other than caraway seeds, living far away from home fifty years or more, the taste buds leads him home in these strange ways, i guess. ibi, however decided, it would be only cumin powder, not in a mood to treat clearly.
sorry, back to the stuffing.
heat oil, you’ll be frying the fish slowly for a while, there must be enough oil for that, i guess about four tablespoons, maybe a bit more. when the oil is hot, add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cinnamon… allow the aroma of the whole spices to release, throw in the onions and fry till they’re translucent, wanting to brown. add the ginger paste and cumin powder and stir away, let that raw smell abate. add the fish and on medium to low heat, turning every now and then, let it all roast and come together. along the way, add the green chillies, salt, a pinch of sugar, a little vinegar. i have not mentioned ghee because i didn’t put it, but ghee gives the taste a noble sort of richness, a teaspoon of ghee right at the end, will be good i am sure.
fry till the fish is not sticking to the pan, and a pleasant heady smell is making you think, maybe it’s time i stopped doing this.
set the fish aside, let it cool. take out the garam masala (clove/cinnamon/cardamom) and bay leaf.
plain flour 2 cups
oil 3 tbsp
pinch of soda bicarb (optional)
mix the flour with salt and oil first (add soda bicarb and salt to the dry flour). then add enough water to make a not too wet or soft dough. cover and leave for a while.
oil to deep fry
heat oil and keep it ready to drop in the kochuri. divide the dough into 20/22 equal sized bits. roll out two of them into thin circles, place about two and a half tablespoons of the fish in the centre of one, cover it with the second one. stretch the edges and seal all around. the dough tends to shrink, i kept thinking it’ll tear and mess up everything. it didn’t. then pinch the edge and tuck it in at regular, or irregular as in my case, intervals. do not forget to look pleased at your wizard work.
not very pretty, but it gives you an idea.
when you slide it into the oil, let it cook on one side well, just use the ladle and put some oil on the top, the kochuri will start to rise and puff up. after a while, turn it to lightly brown both sides. take out and leave on tissue paper for a bit. do not feel guilty at the oil seeping out. you’ll get about 10 or 11 kochuris.
if you plan to try this, i hope it’s nothing short of a treat.