Magur is the name catfish goes by in these parts, and it’s not a new fish in our markets, but it’s a shame that so many of us don’t cook with it at home. Oily fishes like catfish and hilsa pack lots of flavour, but in Mumbai at least, it’s not as popular as Bangda or Paplet. This ought to change because the fish is packed with vitamins and that omega-3 stuff that’s a huge selling point for expensive salmon and rainbow trout. What’s better is how cheap it is to buy catfish in our markets. Catfish steaks can adapt well to all your curries- the Bengalis cook it with whole spices, potatoes and onions or their archetypal mustard seed paste, the South Indians make a spicy curry made sour with the addition of malabar tamarind or kudampuli and the Assamese cook it with a leafy green like Indian pennywort and curry leaves.
As respite from some of the “boring” sabzi-roti I put before my family, I decided to try my hand at the Burmese Mohinga, a thick, soupy ramen-like noodle bowl of pulled catfish, mashed chickpeas and some more funk from shrimp paste (Nam Jai is a good brand if you can’t find a bottle of Lee Kum Kee Shrimp paste). For the recipe, I started with Luke Nguyen’s and decided to make my own changes to it. I found it easier to start on my Mohinga the day before, and finished it for lunch the following morning. I also decided against using banana trunk the second time I made this, but you could boil it separately and add it to the broth together with any additional vegetables like french beans, potatoes, sprouts or condiments such as fried onions, peanuts, fried garlic etc.
When it comes to rice noodles, vermicelli is a good option if you like that, but I went with the slightly thicker variety.
Catfish 1, rinsed and cut into steaks
Lemongrass stalk 2, bruised
Garlic 3 large cloves, crushed
Turmeric powder 1 tsp
Lemongrass stalks 2, white part only, finely sliced
Dried red Kashmiri chillies 4
Red Onions 2 large
Garlic 4 large cloves
Ginger 2 cm
Vegetable Oil 2-3 tbsp
Shrimp Paste 1 tbsp
Chilli powder 2 tsp
Cooked chickpeas 3 heaped tablespoons, crushed
Rice flour 1/4 cup or an equal amount of Besan
Tamarind extract 2 tbsp or more, from one golf ball-sized tamarind
Rice vermicelli or flat rice noodles 400g, cooked as per packet instructions
Fish Sauce or Salt to season
Black pepper to season
Hard boiled eggs
Lime wedges to squeeze over before serving
Boiled Banana trunk, French Beans, Potatoes, Bean sprouts for serving (optional)
To begin, start by making the catfish stock broth. Add the catfish, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric powder to a pasta stockpot or an equally large vessel. Cover the surface completely with water, filling your vessel till 3/4th full at least. Let this come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 20 minutes, skimming any impurities that rise to the surface.
Next, strain the stock and pull the fish from it’s bones using your hands. Watch it as it’s going to be quite hot. Set aside the catfish meat and the broth separately. You can blitz all the ingredients for the spice paste too and simply come back to the recipe the next day.
On day 2, blitz the spice paste if you haven’t already. That would include 2 lemongrass stalks, the chillies, onions, garlic and ginger. Heat about 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil in same stockpot you used for the catfish broth and empty out the blitzed masala into the vessel, frying it for about 5-6 minutes. Next, add the flaked catfish mixture and stir it with the spice paste thoroughly. Leave this over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add in the tablespoon of shrimp paste and the red chilli powder together and continue to saute for an additional 5-6 minutes over low heat. Next, slowly pour back the broth into the stockpot and increase the heat back to medum. Add the mashed chickpeas, the rice flour and let it all come up to a bubble, then season with salt and pepper. Add in the tamarind extract and reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until done. Check for salt and sourness. Both should be balanced.
To serve, place noodles at the bottom of the bowl, pour over the thick broth and finish with the hardboiled eggs, your choice of vegetables and condiments, a wedge of lime and some chilli flakes to finish.