I grew up by the sea and indulged on the wonderful seafood that one could dream of. Port Blair offered an abundance of seafood at a throwaway price in the 80s and 90s. We used to have lobsters and giant sized crabs for a Sunday lunch. By giant sized, they were between 2 to 2.5 kg each. Prawns were a weekly affair. However, It was right before we moved to Kolkata that I developed a shellfish allergy. It took sometime to understand the cause and I went through a physically painful time for a couple of months. I remember this family get together, where Ma had cooked these beautiful jumbo golda chingri malaikari. Just a spoonful of the curry and I could literally feel my stomach swelling. That’s when we understood the cause of all the pain. Since then, whenever there is malaikari being cooked at home, Ma makes Bhetki macher malakari for me.

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Bhetki Macher Malaikari is a little different from Chingri Macher Malaikari

Bhekti macher malaikari tastes different than chingri macher malaikari. The prawn heads add to the flavour of the gravy and a chingri malaikari without the prawn heads is not the same. Bhetki macher malaikari, on the other hand has a more robust gravy. The fish itself is very delicate and has a sweet taste. To counter that, Ma treats the gravy a bit differently from chingri macher malaikari. Whatever the reason, you got to try it to know how good it is. And even though I know the entire process through and through, there is something about Ma’s cooking. Everything tastes better when she cooks.

Must ReadWithin few months of this post we made a malaikari with Bhekti but used the Native Australian Ingredients. 

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I like the way Ma uses only onion juice, garlic juice and ginger juice as a marinade for the fish. In chingri malaikari, we never use garlic paste. However, bhetki mach tastes better with a wee bit of garlic. She also adds all the leftover onion paste and garlic paste in the gravy but doesn’t add the leftover ginger paste. Bengali garam masala plays a key role as always. Bengali garam masala consists of equal quantities of cinnamon, green cardamom and cloves, which is used whole to temper and as a powder in the end to flavour. Bhetki maach is so soft that it easily fall apart and tends to over cook. So the fish needs to be handled carefully. 

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Serving and storing suggestions

There is no other alternative than eating this with steamed rice. Nothing else does justice to this glorious dish. You can store this in the refrigerator for upto 2 days. You can also freeze it for a month. Thaw it in room temperature and then heat it before eating. 

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Bhetki macher malaikari - 1

Bhetki Macher Malaikari

Madhushree Basu Roy
Bhetki mach cooked in a coconut gravy
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Bengali
Servings 6 servings


  • 6 nos bhetki fish steaks
  • 1 large onion
  • 1.5 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp kashmiri red chili powder
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 nos green cardamom
  • 3 nos cloves
  • 2 nos dried red chillies
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup thick coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp Bengali garam masala powder
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 4 -5 green chillies
  • 2.5 tbsp mustard oil
  • 2 tsp ghee
  • salt to taste


  • Wash the fish and pat them dry. Make a paste of one onion. Squeeze out of the juice of the onion. Now add half of that juice to the fish. Strain the juice from the garlic paste and add the juice to the fish. Squeeze all the juice from ginger paste and add the juice to the fish.
  • Add salt to taste and lemon juice. Sprinkle 1 tsp turmeric powder and rub the fish in the marinade. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
  • Make a paste of one tomato and keep aside.
  • It's better to use a non stick frying pan or kadai for this dish since bhetki fish is very delicate and there are always chances of it breaking.
  • In a kadai, take 2 tbsp mustard oil. When the oil is hot, gently lower the fish in the oil. Fry on each side, on medium heat, for a little more than half a minute. Flip the fish when one side has got some colour.
  • Take the fish out of the kadai and keep aside.
  • In the same kadai, add another 1/2 tbsp mustard oil and a tsp of ghee. When it's hot, temper with 2 dried red chillies, and cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Let them colour and release their fragrance.
  • Then squeeze out all the excess water from the onion paste (keep the water separately to be added later) and fry on medium to high heat.
  • After a couple of minutes, add the garlic paste and continue frying. And then add the juice of the onion and keep frying on high to medium heat.
  • Once everything has nicely browned, add the tomato puree, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt. Continue cooking on high heat till the raw smell goes off. While doing this, add all the leftover marinade into this. It helps in frying and has all the flavours too.
  • When the raw smell isn't there anymore, add half a cup of water. And gently drop the fish pieces into the gravy. Coat the fish in the sauce and then add 1 cup of coconut milk.
  • Sprinkle sugar and stir. Then let it simmer for two to three minutes, till you see oil starting to float on top.
  • Then you sprinkle Bengali garam masala powder, drizzle some ghee and finally pour in 1/2 cup of thick coconut milk. This should be a really creamy thick milk.
  • Split the green chillies and add them to the gravy. You can add them whole as well.
  • Very genty stir it once and simmer for a minute and then turn off the gas.
  • Serve Bhetki macher malaikari with steamed rice.
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