Assam is one of the seven North Eastern states of India. It is surrounded by the 6 sister states and it connects north eastern states to rest of India through a strip of land in West Bengal. Assam shares its international border with Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Assamese cuisine consists of lot of rice, fish, meats and vegetables. Food is prepared with very few spices, short cooking time using very little oil. Rice is a staple in the region and fish is a common food with the abundance of it from many rivers and ponds in the state. Chicken, squab (baby pigeon) and duck are preferred meats and are paired with vegetables. I was surprised to see many meat recipes are cooked with vegetables such as bottle gourd. Pork and beef are consumed by the tribes but not by most of the Assamese people. Mustard oil is used for cooking. Some of the preparations of this state are khar, tenga, pura and pitika.
Khar is a dish prepared with an ingredient called khar. The ingredient khar is prepared by burning banana peel and filtering water thru the ashes of the banana peel. The filtered water is called khar. This khar is used to prepare the dish khar, with raw papaya, bottle gourd, rice or fish. When the ingredient khar, which is the water filtered thru burnt banana peel is not available, baking soda can be substituted. Traditional Assamese meal starts with the dish khar and rice, and is believed that it cleanses the stomach.
Tenga is a very common and must try food from Assam. It is tangy gravy cooked with fish, meats or vegetables. Fish Tenga or masor tenga is the most popular Assamese dish. Tomatoes are used to sour the gravy. The other souring ingredients used for this dish, instead of tomatoes are lemon and mangosteen.
Pitika is side dish prepared by mashing vegetables. The most common pitika is made with potato and other vegetables that can be used to make pitika are tomato and brinjal. Mashed vegetable is seasoned with green chilies, onions and mustard oil.
Pura is an Assamese style of barbeque. Fish and meats are barbequed and seems to very common. Some of the snacks from the region are jolpan, pitha and laru. Tea is integral part of Assamese cuisine. Assam is known for its tea plantations. Information about the state was gathered from online sources, mostly wiki.
Coming to today’s recipe, I wanted to make to masor tenga and I did not even explore and consider other food from this state. Of all the north eastern states, this was one state that I was not worried about. There are many recipes online and I put off cooking this state until the end. By the time I got to this state, I had already prepared 2 fish gravies and did not want to do another. Then I found tilor torkai, sesame fish recipe. Final dish looked dry and went ahead with this curry. We like spicy food and especially in non-veg. To suite our taste, I added more spices than the recipe called for, yet it was a little bland for our taste. I did not want to use too many spices and kept it close to the original recipe, and to the region. However, next day I spiced it up and fried the fish a little longer to suit our taste buds.
Source: Assamese Cuisine
Total Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Preparation: 5 – 1 0 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 – 20 minutes
- 1 Whole Fish weighting 1.28 lbs., 1 lb. after cleaning or 6 - 7 Fish Steaks (I used Bronzini and check notes)
- ½ tsp. Salt
- Pinch of Turmeric
Rest of the Ingredients:
- 2 – 3 tbsp. Mustard Oil (I used 2 tbsp. olive oil but any vegetable oil can be used)
- 2 - 3 Red Chilies
- 3 Bay Leaves
- ¼ tsp. Cumin Seeds
- ½ big Onion chopped or 1 cup chopped Onion
- ½ tbsp. Chili Powder (adjust to taste)
- Pinch of Turmeric
- 2 tbsp. Sesame Seeds, powdered (I used brown seeds but looks like it is usually prepared with black sesame seeds)
- 1 tsp. Salt (adjust to taste)
- ¾ - 1 cup Water (I used 1 cup but felt ¾ cup would work)
- ¼ tsp. Garam Masala (I used store bought Rajah brand)
- Cut fish into steaks. Wash and pat dry the fish. Apply salt and turmeric and keep aside.
- In a pan or a skillet heat 1 tbsp. of oil and fry the fish for about 2 – 3 minutes turning it, to evenly fry it on all sides. Remove from the pan and keep it aside.
- Add remaining oil to the pan; add red chilies, bay leaves and cumin seeds.
- When cumin seeds are light brown, add onions and sauté for a minute or 2 and add chili powder. Saute for another 1 - 2 minutes until onions are translucent and light brown.
- Add turmeric, sesame seeds powder and salt, mix well and sauté for few seconds until spices are lightly cooked in the oil.
- Add water, bring it to a boil and let it boil on medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
- Add fish and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Stir it in in between. Be careful when turning the fish. It can easily break. Fish does not require too much cooking.
- When the gravy thickens and fish is cooked, turn off the heat. We liked the fish as seen in the picture but felt I could have fried it a little longer.
- Serve hot with rice.
- Fish: I bought whole bronzini, and had it cut into stakes. I discarded the head. I usually buy whole fish from Whole Foods and they do a pretty good job cleaning and cutting the fish. The other store I shop fish form is Citarella, a specialty store in the city. Fish fillets can also be used. If using fillets, cut it into 2 – 2 ½“ pieces or as desired size. Fillets cook faster than the steak and time of the fish might vary.
- Oil: I used mustard oil but any oil of choice can be used. I never used mustard oil and for this marathon I bought a bottle of mustard oil as it is used in east & north east Indian cuisines. I must confess, I liked the oil and finished off the bottle I bought and, I am yet to cook 2 more northeastern states and one eastern state. I have to pick up another bottle next I do my Indian groceries or look for it in Whole Foods.
- Spices: The spice level of the fish is mild and it can be spiced up. With the leftover fish, I added little more oil, chili powder, coriander powder and fried it a little more.