Doi Maach or Fish in Yoghurt Sauce
My father is averse to anything sour in his food. Not surprisingly, that trait passed on to me as well, though not so much my sister. I have taken more after our father and she is more like Ma. Deta’ apathy towards sourness is a quite an oddity since Assamese are known for their tenga (tart and tangy) dishes. He has such sensitive taste buds that you just have to add one tomato or just a squeeze of lime to see his face turn all ‘twisty’ and announce that the food is quite inedible. An upset Ma would then remark that maybe Deta was a descendent of Ghurabaak (or simply Baak), a very popular ghost/creature of Assamese myths.
Apparently, this Baak was a fish-loving personality that would accost unsuspecting fishing people at night. I have grown up listening to innumerable stories about the Baak pestering villagers to part with their catch of the evening. One of the stories goes that once a Baak decided to take the form of a man and gatecrash a wedding to partake of the feast, since fish curry is a mandatory fixture of the Assamese menu. Now, although the Baak loved fish, he could not tolerate tartness. What perhaps he did not know was that the dish to be served was fish tenga. So, when he scooped up the fish and popped it into his mouth, the tenga zapped him to the core and he immediately reverted to his true form, the lanky Baak. With a loud “Moi tenga nakhau oi!” (loosely translated as “Darn, I don’t like sour”) he overturned the bench where food was served and disappeared in a flash, much to the consternation of his fellow feasters.
Now, although I had supported Deta in his dislike towards sourness, somewhere down the line I changed tracks and became a convert. Perhaps it had something to do with my prolonged absence from Assam that made me long for tenga dishes. Then, I got married to a family that swore by tomatoes and lemons. So, today there is hardly any dish where I don’t add a souring agent.
This time, when I went home, it was terribly hot and humid, making me crave for light, sour food. Since Deta had not changed his preference, I decided to make fish in yoghurt sauce. The recipe Doi Maach is a Bengali one, which I tweaked a little. Although it has yoghurt, it is not overtly sour and has sweet undertones - a beautifully balanced dish. Let me share the recipe with you.
Doi Maach or Fish in Yoghurt Sauce
4-6 steaks of firm white fish (I used Rohu)
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 onions, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (generally only ginger is used but I love my garlic)
½ teaspoon each of cumin powder, coriander powder and chilli powder
1 small cup of fresh yoghurt (whisked well)
1 teaspoon ghee/ clarified butter (optional)
3 cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves and 3 cardamoms (bashed up a little)
Salt and sugar to taste
Oil for cooking (I used mustard oil)
Marinate the fish pieces in a little turmeric powder and salt for around 10-15 minutes and then shallow fry in a pan. Keep the fried fish aside.
In a bowl, mix the yoghurt with the powdered spices (turmeric, cumin and coriander), salt and sugar and whisk well. Keep aside.
Now, in a kadai or wok, heat some oil and fry the chopped onions and ginger-garlic paste till brown. Remove from heat and blitz the fried onions and ginger-garlic in a mixie to a rough paste.
Reheat the kadai and tip in the whole spices (cinnamon, cloves and cardamom). Let them pop and then add the ground onion mixture. Stir well.
Next, pour in a cup of warm water and let it come to a boil. Then, gently slide in the fish pieces and simmer for around 5 minutes.
Now, take off the kadai from heat and fold in the yoghurt mixture carefully. Check for the salt and sugar balance.
Return the kadai to the gas and keep it on low heat for around 2-3 minutes. Finally, add a dollop of ghee over the curry and switch off the gas. Your Doi Maach is ready to be served and savoured!
This was one dish that did not give Deta any chance to pucker up his face and pass wry comments. After all these years, finally we got a ‘peaceful’ dish. And thankfully, no “Moi tenga nakhau oi!” moments, too!
Hopefully you will like this Doi Maach rendition and maybe share your recipe with us as well. Take care!