These fish croquettes were part of the first course in that fancy meal.
Since I was a wee thing hanging around in my mom’s kitchen, I saw her making a Bengali delicacy called fish chop or “maachcher chop”. Maach being fish in Bengali. Making the fish chop was quite tedious, involving several steps beginning with steaming and deboning fish fillets, boiling and mashing potatoes, proceeding to sauté both separately with spices and aromatics. My mother used to make me taste the mixtures before she took them off the heat to make sure that the seasoning was fine.
I could have made a meal out of either the potatoes or fish mixture. They were out of this world. And yet, my mother did not stop at that. Then she would make little torpedoes of the fish mixture, cover each torpedo with a layer of the potato mixture, and then bread and deep fry them.
They were delicious and addictive, and would have been perfect for a meal. All you needed was a salad on the side. But no, Bengalis do not believe in simple meals, not when guests are coming. In my mom’s kitchen, they were just part of the first course. Needless to say, the chops had to made a day ahead. She would bread the fat edible grenades and put them in the fridge, to be deep fried just before the guests sat down for the banquet.
Once, while in the USA, I called my mother to tell her that I had made her fish chops except that I had used a short-cut, that I thought I had invented all on my own. I mashed up the fish and potatoes and then sautéed them together with spices and aromatics. Finally I made patties out to the mixture and breaded and fried them. The results were pretty tasty although not as visually impressive on the inside as the fish chops.
My mother heard me out and remarked, “What you made are fish croquettes.”
So I must say, I have decided to confine myself to making fish croquettes not chops, just because I am lazy that way. Not only that, I do not even bother to steam and de-bone filleted fish. I use canned tuna or salmon. Also I use light tuna in light of concerns about mercury levels.
If you are wondering about the origin of these dishes, you are right. It has everything to do with our colonial past and the Bengali way of incorporating English dishes into our cuisine and making them our own. In the process, we have modified them so much that they are virtually unrecognizable.
Since my childhood I have seen that fish chops and their ilk (you can get mutton or vegetable ones too) can be bought piping hot off the deep-fryer in every self-respecting Bengali food joint, or restaurant. They are a popular street-food.
Recipe: Traditional Bengali Fish Croquettes
The recipe is rather simple. For every can of tuna, I used about 2 cups of boiled and roughly mashed potatoes. Sauté with chopped onions, ginger and garlic, turmeric and chilli to taste. Finish with a dash of lemon juice to bring in a tangy note. Make patties and bread as usual.
The following recipe makes about 16 patties
2 cans of light tuna packed in oil, well-drained of the oil and mashed lightly with a fork (you can also steam any fresh fish that you like)
Four cups of roughly mashed potatoes
1 small stick of cinnamon
2-3 pods of cardamom, cracked
1 large onion finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped or grated ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp chili powder or hot paprika (or to taste)
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp oil
2-3 tbsp of flour
Breadcrumbs for coating (I used a mixture of breadcrumbs and polenta. Use polenta for gluten-free). Panko would be great too.
oil for deep frying
- Heat oil in a large frying pan.
- Add the cinnamon and cardamom.
- When they start to release their aroma, add the onion and stir fry until the onions are browning at the edges.
- Add the ginger and garlic, turmeric, salt and chilli and stir fry for a minute or two.
- Add the mashed fish and potatoes.
- Mix well and cook until the mixture is heated through and everything looks well incorporated.
- Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed.
- Turn off the heat and mix in the lemon juice.
- Turn out into a plate to cool.
- Shape into patties. This is a good time to pick out the cardamom and cinnamon bits.
- Lightly beat the eggs and pour out a plateful of breadcrumbs.
- Spread out the flour on a plate.
- Taking one patty at a time, lightly coat with flour, dip into egg and roll in the breadcrumbs.
You can cool the croquettes down and store them in the refrigerator the previous day. They heat up really well and turn crisp in a preheated oven (190 Celsius) for 20 minutes. Serve with a salad for a light meal or enjoy them just as they are. Or serve them as part of a multi-course meal like I did.