One of the best parts of cooking is trying to find a way where there is zero or minimal waste of produce. It’s heartening to watch even cookery shows placing emphasis on the concept of zero-waste in an attempt to turn it back into norm rather than a trend. And I am well aware that I used the term ‘turn it back into a norm’. Over the years, I’ve seen my mother practice the same thought process that she has learned from her mother.
For instance, the skin of the bottle gourd does not land in the washbasin. It is washed well and fried till slightly crisp, making it a perfect accompaniment with daal bhaat (rice & lentils). The stems of cauliflowers and leafy greens like spinach are used in chochodi (mixed vegetables). The bones of mutton/lamb, if not used in the curry, are utilised to make soup. And we use the entire banana tree! The leaves are used as plates, the fruits are eaten, and the flowers are used to make a vegetable as is the fleshy part of the tree’s trunk.
The muri ghonto is another such dish that uses a part of the whole fish that is generally not taken home by people. I always remember my father bringing home a whole fish, from the head to the tail. A second round of cleaning at home ensues before the fish pieces are seasoned with salt and turmeric. Then, calculating the number of people in the household, Maa divides the pieces into containers which are then stashed in the freezer until further use. If the fish, however, is a Catla or Rohu, the fish heads are kept in a separate container with a big chunk of fish. Because this fish head is used to make the muri ghonto – fish head mishmash in rice.
A favourite of the elder sister and her husband, this fish head and rice mishmash has even travelled from Ahmedabad to Kolkata with us by flight! Such is the love for this indulgent dish that seems a bit daunting when you see the time but is actually pretty easy to make and light on the stomach. As is the case with most food, the fish-head-rice is made in different ways by different people. You can add fried potatoes, green peas, nuts and raisins to enhance the flavour of the dish. The cooking medium can be ghee, vegetable oil or mustard oil, whatever tantalises your palate.
However, I would advise caution while frying the fish headpieces. As it fries, fish tends to stick to the pan – to avoid this, add a pinch of salt to the oil. Whilst cooking, water from the fish seeps into the oil causing it to splutter. Keep children out of the kitchen and be careful while you cook – I ended up being splattered with hot oil and had to hand over the reins to my mother for a while as I attended to the burns.
Remember these little tips and you are ready to roll! Do let me know if you follow this recipe and make the muri ghonto at home. Share your experiences in the comment section or on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. You could also subscribe and be a part of the mailing list for regular updates. Until then, happy cooking and eating!
A traditional Bengali dish where the fish head is fried and cooked with rice.
- 700 grams Katla / Indian Carp head (cleaned)
- 250 grams Basmati rice
- 300 grams Onion (finely chopped)
- ½ tablespoon Ginger paste
- 5-6 cloves Garlic
- 6-7 pieces Clove
- 7-8 Cardamom pods
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1½ tablespoon Salt
- 1½ teaspoon Turmeric Powder
- 1½ teaspoon Red chilli powder
- 1½ teaspoon Sugar
- 2 tablespoons Ghee
- ½ cup Vegetable oil
- 3 cups Water
- 1¾ cup Hot water
Wash the rice well and soak in 3 cups water for at least 30 minutes.
Cook the rice (buy here) till it is firm to the bite. Strain and set aside.
Cut the fish head into 2-3 pieces, clean and wash well.
In a bowl, combine ½ tablespoon salt with 1 teaspoon turmeric powder. Add the fish head pieces in this powder, coating each piece properly.
Pour oil in a large wok or kadhai (buy here); add a pinch of salt and let the oil heat.
On a low-medium flame, fry the fish pieces till golden brown. Strain and set aside. Make sure to cook both sides of the fish to cook it through and ensure there is no odour.
In a fresh pan, heat the ghee (buy here). (If you intend to use pan used to fry the fish, carefully drain the hot oil and wipe the vessel with some kitchen towel.)
Add onion, ginger paste and finely chopped garlic. Cook till onion is soft and golden brown.
Add sugar, mix well and cook for 5-7 minutes.
Pour in the hot water. Add salt, turmeric powder and chilli powder, stir well and bring to simmer.
Gently place the pieces of the fried fish head to the simmering curry, over and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the fish softens a bit.
Add the rice to this simmering mixture, stir well.
Cover and cook for a few minutes, until the rice is cooked completely and has absorbed all the water.
Check the seasoning and adjust if needed.