Chitol Maachher Muithya (Clown Knifefish dumplings in a rich gravy)

I really can't say when my love for Chitol Maachher Muithya transcended into obsession. I don't know whether it was a gradual process or happened overnight. All I remember is that there suddenly came a time when my cravings for fish meant cravings for muithya. I started dreaming about it, I started fantasising about it. I can't tell you how madly I am in love with it. I'm as obsessed with it as SRK was about K..K..K..K..Kiran in Darr. If chitol was not a fish, I would have married it. (Okay, that sounds weird.) But I always was bogged by this notion that muithyas are extremely difficult to make and should strictly be enjoyed in weddings and Bengali specialty restaurants. There were very few people who could make it and even they were too lazy and terrified to do so.
One such person was one of my closest friends' mom. Whenever I would come down to Calcutta she would invite me over and treat me to muithya, pabda, chingri etc. My friend, who was a non-fish eater, would gape at amazement as to how I would wipe off a plate so neatly and come back for some more the next day. Infact kakima would not just feed me muithyas while in the city, she would also pack some fried dumplings for me to take back to Delhi. I would then make the gravy, gulp it down with plain rice and reminisce about home.
She taught me the trick to make the perfect dumplings — cook them first in boiling water and then proceed to fry them. This is what gives the muithyas an almost elastic consistency, something that I've seen almost everyone struggle with. So armed by her little tip, I started my mission muithya. I didn't allow anybody to help me in the prep so that, if it turns out well, I could take the entire credit for it! And trust me, they turned out better than I've had anywhere. I'm not exaggerating, even SNB thought so! It was quite a "Eureka" moment for me. :)
Makes 16 koftas/dumplings

For the muithya/kofta/dumpling:

Chitol maach (Clown Knifefish/Indian featherback fish), gada (dorsal part): 500 gm
Onion paste: 2 tbsp
Garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Ginger paste: 1 tbsp
Potato, boiled and mashed: 1 big
Green chillies, sliced finely: 2
Turmeric powder: 1.5 tsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder: 1tsp
Salt, to taste
Mustard Oil: 2-3 tbsp
Water: as required

For gravy:
Mustard oil: 1 tbsp
Potatoes, parboiled and diced: 2
Bay leaf: 2
Cinnamon sticks: 2
Green cardamom: 6
Black cardamom: 2
Cloves: 5-6
Mace, grated: 1/2 tsp
Onion paste: 4 tbsp
Garlic paste: 1 tbsp
Ginger paste: 3/4 tbsp
Tomatoes, roughly chopped: 2
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
Cream or yoghurt: 2 tbsp (optional)
Ghee: 1.5 tsp (optional)
Garam masala powder: 1/2 tsp

1. Clean the fish thoroughly and pat dry. Now with a sharp knife cut along both sides of the spine. Now scrape the fish meat out with a spoon. Remove all bones.

2. Now to the fish meat add all ingredients listed under muithya/kofta except mustard oil and water. Mix well into a smooth batter.

3. Wet your hands with some warm water. Take a little of the filling in your hands and roll them in between your palms to make fish balls. Repeat for the entire filling.

6. Heat water in a pan till it starts boiling. Drop the fish balls, 5 to 6 at a time. After the are done they'll automatically float to the top of the water. Each set will take 5-6 minutes approximately.

7. Heat a deep-bottomed pan/kadhai till smoking point. Now add mustard oil. and gradually add the boiled fish dumplings. Do this is batches of 7-8. Fry till the fish dumplings crisp up uniformly. Drain on kitchen towel and set aside. In the same oil fry the parboiled potato cubes till golden brown. Again drain on kitchen towel.

8. The muithya and potatoes are done, now for the gravy. In a kadhai, add mustard oil and allow it to heat up. Add bay leaves and let it splutter for 30 seconds. Add cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves, mace and cook for 45 seconds more.

9. Add the onion paste and cook on medium high heat till it changes colour slightly. Add garlic paste and ginger paste, salt and sugar, and keep stirring for 3-4 minutes. Now add tomatoes and stir for another 2 minutes. Mix the powdered spices with 2 tbsp of water and add it to the pan. Mix well, cover and cook till oil separates. Add hot water bit by bit and allow the gravy to soak it up. Repeat this for 2-3 times.

10. Now add a cup of warm water (more or less depending on the consistency you're looking at) and bring to a boil. Now lower the heat and add the fish dumplings and potatoes. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes.

11. Add cream or yoghurt (if using) at this juncture and cook for another couple of minutes.

12. Sprinkle ghee and garam masala and serve hot with plain rice. Aaah, heaven!


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