A delicious paturi

This traditional Bengali fish preparation which is enjoyed by all and provides a delicate taste

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By Foodie

Bhetki macher paturi is a traditional Bengali fish preparation which has been enjoyed by all, beyond age and time. Bhetki paturi always calls for good quality freshest possible barramundi fillet, which is marinated in mustard based mixture and wrapped in banana leaves. Fish is cooked either by steaming or grilling on a pan and enjoyed with steamed rice, always.

This unique style of Bengali cooking includes using banana leaves for cooking fish. Here, ‘bhetki’ is the Bengali name for the barramundi fish (maach). ‘Paturi’ stands for leaf. A Bhetki fish paturi recipe is prepared using this fish and banana leaves, along with a few other simple ingredients readily available in every Indian household.

Bhetki paturi, or more properly bhetki macher kolapaturi, is a relatively new entrant in the Calcutta food scene. Ilish was the de facto fish for kola paturi, until rising prices and the challenges of picking out fine bones at wedding buffets while also trying to maintain at least the pretence of friendly conversation led to boneless bhetki fillets replacing ilish in paturi for catered events.

The word paturi, according to food historian Pritha Sen, comes from the word “patri” meaning a tablet (not tablet like a pill, but tablet like a slab of stone)—referring to how paturi is cooked in a flat layer on low heat, often in a leaf parcel like in this recipe. However, not all paturis are cooked in leaf parcels.

The basic fish paturi marinade has just ground mustard, green chillies, turmeric, mustard oil and salt. The pungency of the mustard may be toned down with yoghurt (which also adds some sourness), or coconut (also adds texture and flavour), poppy seed paste, or by simply using more yellow mustard than brown.

One such iconic Bengali fish recipe is paturi. Etymologically, the word ‘paturi’ comes from ‘pata’, meaning leaf. In this recipe, banana leaf has the most important role to play. To put it simply, paturi is marinated fish, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed to perfection. Traditionally, bhetki fish is used to prepare this dish. But you can also go for basa, if bhetki is not available. During the monsoons, paturi is also made with the delicious hilsa fish.

Paturi recipe also finds several regional counterparts across communities. In Parsi cuisine, you get ‘patra ni macchi‘, Assamese refer to it as ‘bhapot diya mach‘; whereas, in Odia it is called ‘machcha patropoda‘. You also get a south Indian version of it, which is popularly known as ‘meen pollichathu‘. Interestingly, Laos (a country near Thailand) has a similar recipe called ‘mok pa‘. While the process of making these recipes remain the same, what makes each different from the other are the fishes and spices they use.

The fish fillets can be individually wrapped in small parcels or can be cooked all together, layered in a large leaf parcel either steamed or pan fried on low heat. You can also go out to the garden and cook the paturi on a clay oven over a coal fire. This gives the paturi an undertone of smokiness, which is great for a white, non-oily fish like bhetki.

The key of the well cooked yet melt-in-the-mouth kind of fish is double marination. First marinade would be a mixture of turmeric powder, salt and gondhoraj lebur ros, juice from king of lime which will not only soften the fish but also adds the aroma to the fish. Then marinate the same fish in paturi mix and keep for 30 minutes to 4 hours. This will bind the paturi flavour to the fish while the juice from the mixture will keep the fish soft and delicate. Substitute gondho lebu with regular lime or lemon if they are not available.

  • Prep time 30 mins
  • Cook time- 20 mins
  • Total time –50 mins

    INGREDIENTS
  • 1kg bhetki maach
  • 10g salt
  • 4 Bhetki fish , fillets cut to 4*2 inch pices
  • 2 tablespoons Mustard seeds (Rai/ Kadugu)
  • 1 tablespoon Poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup Fresh coconut , grated, plus more to garnish
  • 7 Green Chillies , slit
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder (Haldi)
  • 1 Banana leaf , cut into  10*8 rectangles
  • 2 teaspoons Mustard oil

    How to make:
  • To begin making Bengali Bhetki Macher Paturi Recipe (Barramundi Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaf), mix the fish pieces with half teaspoon turmeric powder and  salt  in a bowl.
  • In a mixer grinder, make a paste of mustard seeds, poppy seeds and green chilies by adding a little bit of water.
  • Take the grated coconut in a bowl. Add mustard seeds paste, a bit of salt to taste and remaining turmeric powder. Mix and make a fine mixture with a fork.
  • Cover and keep them in the fridge for an hour.
  • Remove the fish from the fridge and mix with a teaspoon of mustard oil.
  • Stir gently, warm the banana leaves over an open flame for 30 seconds, make sure it does not get burnt.
  • Put banana leave pieces glossy side up over a plate, rub a little mustard oil on it. Now spread a teaspoon of marinated paste in the center of the banana leaf, place one piece of fish on the paste and put another teaspoon of paste on the top of fish piece so as to cover the fish piece by the paste from both sides then place a green chilli on top of it.
  • Fold the banana leaf to make it a square parcel and tie with thread that the parcels will not open while cooking. Repeat the process for all the fish pieces.
  • Now take a non-stick pan and grease some oil on it and place the banana leaf wrapped fish pieces on it (you can place 4 – 5 pieces at a time ,according to the size of your pan), close the pan with a heavy lid and cook on medium heat for 8-9 minutes on each side on a medium heat.
  • When one batch is done , remove them and place in a casserole to keep the paturi hot. Again repeat the same process to cook the rest of the macher paturi.
  • Serve the freshly prepared steaming hot Bengali Bhetki Macher Paturi Recipe (Barramundi Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaf) along with plain steamed rice, or Pudina Rice Recipe (Spicy Mint Pulao), along with Bengali Style Cholar Dal Recipe and Sweet and Spicy Tomato Chutney Recipe.

    Notes:
  • A few normal threads used for stitching are needed to tie the banana leaves with bhetki.
  • Always try to make this recipe with fresh bhetki or barramundi fish,the taste will be little different if you use frozen fish.