Pabda Maacher Jhol | Indian Butterfish Curry

I’ve got to start with a random confession… or confessions. It took me a while to figure out what pabda maachis called in English and with it came the realization that despite having grown up with the privilege of speaking and understanding 4 languages, I am not very good at either. Maa helped me fry the fish because all that spluttering and splattering scared the life out of me!

Since I’ve just returned from Sri Lanka, the ideal situation would see me sharing some Sri Lankan recipes with you. I do intend to! I always did! Why else would I pester A into helping me pester accessible chefs into sharing a few recipes with me!

But until I get around to step in the kitchen for longer than 20 minutes, I’ll stick to sharing recipes that are popular in the Bhaumick household in the scorching summer heat. Today’s recipe, for instance, allows you to enjoy the goodness of fish without torturing the gut with a masala-laden curry and can be cooked in all of 20-25 minutes!

The pabda or Indian Butterfish is popular in Bengali households for a variety of reasons – a rather fleshy fish, the pabda is filled with flavour and is enriched with several beneficial vitamins and proteins. The fish, due to its size, is cooked whole and served the same way. It also looks rather fancy when dished out, making it a preferred fish to serve to guests.

Because this fish is particularly flavourful, most Bengalis prefer to simmer it in bare minimum spices. You will spot restaurants serving Shorshe Baata Pabda – Indian Butterfish cooked in ground mustard – but most households prefer the simpler pabda cooked in black cumin and green chillies.

There are a few things to keep in mind while cooking the pabda. You need to cook the fish whole so choose a bigger vessel. The pabda, while it fries, tends to splutter a lot and sticks to the vessel, irrespective of the amount of oil used to fry. To combat this, lightly coat the fish with wheat flour before you fry it and add a pinch of salt to the oil as it heats. Allow the pabda to cook through completely before you turn it over.

To cut down on cooking time and avoid the possibility of mutilating the fish, you can cook the curry in a separate container – as done in this recipe – before pouring it over the fried fish and allowing them to simmer in the curry.

If you make this fish curry at home, don’t forget to share your experience in the comment section below. To stay updated on new recipes, follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. You could also subscribe and be a part of the mailing list. Until then, happy cooking and eating!

Indian Butter Fish Curry | Pabda Maacher Jhol
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
30 mins

Indian Butterfish cooked in curry seasoned with fresh green chillies and black cumin.

Course: Main Course, Non-vegetarian
Cuisine: Bengali (Indian)
Keyword: Bengali, curry, fish, Indian butterfish, pabda
Servings: 4
Author: Rapti B
  • 4 Pabda /Indian Butterfish
  • 1 Potato medium
  • 2 teaspoons Wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons Turmeric Powder
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ teaspoon Nigella Seeds | Black cumin
  • 2 Green Chillies
  • 1 tablespoon Ginger paste
  • ¼ teaspoon Sugar
  • ¾ cup Mustard Oil
  • 1 cup Water
  1. Mix 1 teaspoon each of turmeric powder and salt with 2 teaspoons of wheat flour in a big bowl.

  2. Marinate clean fish in this powder and set aside.
  3. Peel and slice – lengthwise – one medium sized potatoes and dunk in a bowl of water. Set aside.
  4. In a big pan, heat ½ cup mustard oil till it smokes. Add a pinch of salt to the oil.

  5. Once the oil is adequately hot, gently slide in the fish one at a time.

  6. Be careful to maintain a distance as you fry the fish as they splutter a lot and can cause oil burns.
  7. Let the fish fry on medium flame and flip only once they are well cooked or they will break.
  8. In a second pan, heat 2 tablespoons mustard oil.
  9. Add ½ teaspoon black cumin and 2 fresh green chillies to the oil. Let the spices splutter.

  10. Add sliced potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  11. Add 1 tablespoon ginger paste, a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Cook till the potato is lightly fried.

  12. Add 1 cup of water to this mixture, a teaspoon of turmeric and bring to a boil.
  13. Once the potatoes have cooked, pour this curry over the fried fish. Simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning and if satisfactory, remove from flame.

  14. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Recipe Notes

If the curry seems too thin for your taste, dilute 1 teaspoon cornflour in ½ cup water. Add this slurry to the curry as it cooks.


  • Posted 11/05/2019 7:13 pm
    by Anuradha Mukherjee


    • Posted 14/05/2019 10:31 am
      by Rapti B

      It is, right?

  • Posted 25/07/2020 7:52 am
    by Mrunmaya Kumar Pattanaik

    You have kept them simple- both the explanation and the recipe. I like your recipe. Thank you for the tips like coating with flour and adding salt to oil. I didn’t know them earlier and in a few occasions ended up with making fish keema😂

    I think if we heat the pan well before adding oil, (and then cool it down) the microscopic unevenness of the surface reduces, the chances of fish sticking to pan becomes less. And, I have noticed after heating the pan well it can be brought down to a moderate even low temperature (to avoid spluttering while frying) yet food won’t stick. Another trick my mausi used was to cover the fish while frying for few minutes right after adding the fish, that helped cooking, Lessened inhaling of oil vapour while cooking that we no today is harmful for the lungs. But, I don’t like overheating of pans, especially aluminium because I have noticed that overheated pans tend to release metal into oil.

    Thanks for sharing pabda dish. Can’t wait to cook.

    • Posted 01/08/2020 11:12 am
      by Rapti B

      I’m so glad you liked the post. And thank you for sharing these tips from your kitchen. I follow the ‘cover fish’ bit myself, there are never any brownie points for being splattered with hot oil, only painful blisters. As for overheating pans, I feel you. Hope you’ve cooked some pabda for yourself or will soon. Don’t forget to tell me how it went. And if you do share a photo on Instagram, tag me @from.the.corner.table