There is a lesson that the age old Bangla cuisine teaches us – prudence. One might not easily believe it, given the history and evolution of the elaborate Daab Chingri and the uber rich Sorshe Ilish. But it is not every day that you sacrifice puddles of oil to cook Golda Chingri or grind mounds of mustard seeds on your sheel nora (oh, forget that already, there’s the ubiquitous pungent branded mustard powder). It is the daily fare – the humble Rui and Katla that we so lovingly call Kata Pona, omnipresent in the Bangali kitchen in its various avatars. Shove aside the runny machher jhol with potol or a subtle garlic tomato machher torkari that finds its way in the morning platter of rice before heading for school/college or offices. If you live outside Bengal and crave for something fishy and spicy apart from the jhol or jhaal, you’re in for a treat with just three pieces of fish. If you have a kid at home, or an overgrown one like my better half, this will bring lakes of smile on their faces.
Since my father lived away from home and Bengal for a considerable period, the cooking bug in him became fairly active. I’ve heard stories of him quizzing the cook in his college hostel kitchen for quaint Bangla vegetarian recipes. He reproduced them later, and more importantly, taught my mother most of it after marriage. Stationed in Kanpur for twenty years, baba would crave for the crispy hot aromatic Fish Chop (croquette) among other telebhaja that rule our province. Fish or mutton chops weren’t frequent in every telebhaja shop in Calcutta as the non-vegetarianism in them would make the harmless Aloo or Mochar Chop untouchable to a lot of people.
Baba used to hangout with his college buddies in Gariahat and Bhowanipore in the early sixties, which undoubtedly hosted a few wonderful non-vegetarian telebhaja shops and restaurants. I wonder where he learnt the recipe though. Even after moving back to Bengal in the eighties, he preferred making these exotic Fish or Mutton chops at home quite often; for Aloor Chop and sundry, you could always find a nearby choper dokan. I’ve grown up with these lovely croquettes, homemade with much care, love and patience, on occasions when we decided to have fun sitting around a plate full of crispy fried fish chunks and debone them with lots of gossip and adda.
Having inherited this easy and sure-to-make-you-happy recipe, I’ve been making these for a lot of years now. Being an immodest person, I can assure you that I try to avoid the pretentious Bangla food stalls during Durga Pujo (in Pune), now that I know how to nail the Fish Chop. And cease paying them 100 rupees for two modest pieces and a dollop of kasundi. I think the first time I made these was in Hyderabad, probably satiating my craving for Fish Chop rather than trying to impress M just after our wedding. As a lover of Kata Pona, he was overjoyed at the prospect of some fried love.
Coming back to prudence, you don’t need a bagful of ingredients or too much of the expensive fish for these Chops. I made eight moderate Chops with three chunks of Katla and one medium potato. This time I hadn’t intended to make these with the three chunks of fish I had. They were meant to have drowned in a summery bori-potol jhol, but somehow the fish weren’t thawed well before I hastily began frying them. As a result, they began sticking to the bottom of the wok, and turned into soft pieces of less fried chunks, not fit to be turned into jhol. Hence the filling for Chop, churned with a few spices. This is how I make it usually –
Katla (3 chunks) – smeared with salt and turmeric, fried, deboned and mashed. (It is better to use Katla as it is meatier than Rohu)
Potato (1 medium) – peeled, thickly sliced, smeared with little salt, fried, kept aside covered
Onion (1 small) – chopped
Tomato (1 small) – chopped
Ginger – half an inch, grated
Garlic (7-8 pods) – grated (I don’t use ginger-garlic paste, but if you do, add 1 large tablespoon)
Turmeric powder – half tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Garam Masala powder – 1 tsp
For the filling – Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok. I use mustard oil, always. If you’re averse to the pungent aroma, use any white oil. Add the cumin seeds and half tsp Garam Masala powder to the oil. When they splutter, add the onion and fry. Right before it turns brown, add the ginger, garlic and fry. Add the chopped tomatoes, let it all cook. Add a tbsp of water, followed by turmeric, chilli and cumin powder. Add 1 tsp of salt (as the fish was already fried with salt). Mix it all well, add the mashed fish and keep churning it. Add 1 tbsp water if it is too dry. Cook till everything is homogeneous. Mash the fried potato slices, add to the wok followed by rest of the Garam Masala powder. Mix very well till completely dry. Spread on a plate and let the filling cool.
For the chop – Beat one egg in a bowl with a pinch of salt. When the filling is at room temperature, take a big spoonful in your palm and shape it like a croquette. I managed eight moderate Chops with filling from 3 pieces of fish, you can make them any size you’d like to. Dip them in the beaten egg, coat with bread crumbs (you may add a tbsp of Rawa/Suji to make it more crisp) and deep fry (please don’t use mustard oil this time!) Serve with kasundi (preferably), green chilly sauce and/or ketchup.
Do let me know how it turns out, I’ve never been disappointed till now. But there’s a trick to the whole scheme – you must love the aroma of fried fish. I’ve met young adults who frown at the odour of fish while trying a Chop. Well, you don’t expect it to smell like Aloor Chop, do you? When you dig your teeth into the fuming interiors of a freshly fried Fish Chop, you will taste and savour the goodness of Fish with a heady aroma of a little spices to cut the fishyness. That’s the beauty of this non-vegetarian telebhaja.
Are you salivating yet?