The scenic state of Assam is located in India’s northeastern corner, just south of the Eastern Himalayas. Although Assam is most famous for its delicious black tea (known simply as Assam tea) their delicious cuisine offers up some of India’s tastiest dishes. Assamese cuisine relies heavily upon local ingredients & the seasonal availability of those lovely ingredients.
Seafood (and fish in particular) plays a large role in Assamese cuisine and is eaten almost daily. “Masor Tenga” which translates directly into Sour Fish Curry is a well known dish from Assam. It is a delicately spiced dish with wonderful tastes and flavors. Traditionally, the Assamese prefer local freshwater river fish varieties but any firm fish will do such as halibut, snapper, tilapia, cod, haddock, sole, monkfish, flounder, grouper, mahi mahi…
Assamese cuisine is neither pretentious nor fussy but don’t be mistaken about its simplicity either – their cuisine is absolutely delicious in every sense of the word.
MASOR TENGA (Assamese Sour Fish Curry)
1 lb of firm white fish fillets (boneless/skinned), cut into 1.5” pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1” piece of ginger, peeled & finely minced
1 medium tomato, finely diced
1 tsp ground turmeric (haldi)
˝ tsp red chili powder, to taste
˝ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
˝ tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp black mustard seeds
6-8 fresh curry leaves
pinch of asafetida (hing)
salt, to taste
juice of 1 lime or lemon (you can add more or less)
4+ tbsp oil (vegetable or canola), as needed
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for)garnish
1-3 small green Thai chilies, for garnish (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the turmeric, red chili powder & salt. Mix well & add the fish pieces. Gently stir to coat all the fish pieces evenly with the spices. Let the fish marinate for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 hours) covered, in the refrigerator. Set aside until needed.
In a dry skillet on medium heat, dry toast the fenugreek seeds along with the coriander seeds, cumin seeds & black peppercorns until fragrant. Then remove the spices from the pan, allow to cool & grind into a fine powder. Set aside until needed.
Now to the same skillet on medium high heat, add about 2 tbsp of the oil. When hot, add the fish pieces and brown them quickly on both sides. You may need to do this in batches. The fish does not need to be cooked all the way through as they will finish cooking later in the curry. Set aside until needed.
In a large deep skillet or wok on medium high heat, add the oil. When hot, carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering subsides, add the curry leaves & asafetida. After about 30 seconds or so, add the onions & sauté until just lightly browned. Then add the garlic & ginger, stir and let cook for a couple of minutes before adding in the ground spices. Let the spices fry in the oil for a few minutes and then gently add the fish pieces to the pan. Carefully mix well to combine all of the ingredients and evenly coast the fish pieces with the onions & spices. Now add the tomatoes with about 1 cup or so of water, reduce the heat, cover & let simmer for just 5-6 minutes or until the fish is cooked all the way through yet still moist & flaky. Finish the dish with the lime juice, garnish with the cilantro leaves & fresh green chilies. Serve hot with fresh Basmati rice.
Feel free to add some freshly chopped baby spinach or green peas to the dish, as this is also very traditional in Assamese cuisine.