Chefs' Recipes

Ahana Dutt's maache'r paturi (fish wrapped in banana leaves)

A modern take on the Bengali favourite by a talented Firedoor chef.

By Ahana Dutt
  • 45 mins preparation
  • 20 mins cooking (plus fermenting)
  • Serves 4
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Ahana Dutt, junior sous-chef at Sydney's Firedoor, inherited her love of cooking from her mother. "I always watched her, which is how I learnt," she says. "She was always in the kitchen, and anytime she was there I was there."
Dutt initially dreamed of becoming a dancer before quickly realising her talents in the kitchen. "I just wanted to work in a field I really loved," she says. "Life's hard enough as it is, so why would I not do something that I really enjoy?"
From making traditional savoury shortbreads in her Kolkata home, to working alongside Lennox Hastie in the Firedoor kitchen, Dutt has come a long way in a short period of time. The 27-year-old made her entrance into the hospitality world via a hotel management course in Mumbai. In 2014, she moved to Australia after being accepted at Sydney's Le Cordon Bleu.
"When I came to Australia, there was so much opportunity here. And there still is because the food scene is still growing. There's so much diversity here, too. And so many new things to learn."
After graduating, Dutt completed a stint with the Keystone Group before applying for a job at Firedoor – a role that continues to influence her cooking style. "Firedoor is so different from any traditional, conventional kitchen. You really appreciate the ingredients and all the effort that goes into making anything – even for boiling water, you have to build a fire."
Now, her cooking is all about simplicity, while imparting unique elements from her Bengali heritage. And her mantra? Let things be. "I like letting ingredients and produce speak for themselves, rather than making something really complex."
Firedoor junior sous-chef Ahana Dutt. Photo: Nikki To
She describes maache'r paturi as "very traditional Bengali" dish. "It's normally just a piece of fish coated in a coconut and green-chilli mustard paste, and wrapped in banana leaf," she says. "I've done a modern take."
Words by Georgie Meredith.
Start this recipe 3 days ahead to make the green-peppercorn mustard.

Ingredients

  • 200 gm frozen shredded fresh coconut (see note)
  • 4 x 200-250gm skinless Murray cod or pearl perch fillets
  • 4 banana leaves, large enough to wrap the fish
  • 50 ml mustard oil
Green-peppercorn mustard
  • 100 gm black or brown mustard seeds
  • 100 gm yellow mustard seeds
  • 1½ tbsp green peppercorns, rinsed, drained
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 1¼ tsp salt
  • 100 ml verjuice
  • 1 tbsp buttermilk
Salted chilli
  • 50 gm green birdseye chillies, trimmed
  • ¼ tsp salt (2% of the chillies by weight)
Coriander oil
  • 2 bunches coriander, leaves picked
  • 200 ml neutral oil, such as grapeseed oil

Method

  • 1
    For the green-peppercorn mustard, soak mustard seeds and peppercorns in a bowl of water overnight. The next day, strain and rinse under cold water, then drain well. Transfer to a high-powered blender. Add sugar, salt and verjuice, and blend to a smooth paste (1 minute). Stir in the buttermilk. Transfer to a sterilised jar, cover loosely with a piece of muslin and set aside at room temperature for 2 days (see note). Makes 3 cups.
  • 2
    For the salted chilli, pound the chillies and salt with a mortar and pestle (or blitz in a small food processor or spice grinder) to a smooth paste. Set aside.
  • 3
    Blend coconut and 400ml water until smooth. Strain through a nut milk filter bag or muslin into a bowl, gently squeezing until all the liquid is extracted. Refrigerate until needed (discard coconut flesh).
  • 4
    For the coriander oil, blend the coriander and oil in a high- powered blender until very smooth (6-8 minutes). Strain through muslin or a coffee filter. (The leaves should form a paste that you can compost; the oil should be bright green.)
  • 5
    Cut banana leaves, if necessary, into pieces large enough to wrap fish. Coat both sides of fish with 1½ tbsp green-peppercorn mustard. Top each with 1 tsp salted chilli. Place fish on dull side of banana leaf and wrap into a parcel (see note), securing with kitchen string. Heat a lidded barbecue or chargrill pan over medium-high heat and brush each parcel with ½ tsp mustard oil. Cook 2 fish parcels (2 minutes), then close barbecue lid or cover pan with a large, heatproof metal bowl and continue cooking (4 minutes). Remove lid, flip parcels and cook (2-3 minutes). Repeat with remaining parcels. Set aside to rest (1 minute).
  • 6
    Season coconut milk with salt. Open parcels and carefully transfer to serving bowls. Drizzle over coconut milk, coriander oil and remaining mustard oil to serve.

Notes

Frozen fresh coconut is available from Asian supermarkets. Make sure all utensils used are very clean to avoid cross-contamination. Do not use an air-lock seal on the jar for fermenting the green-peppercorn mustard. Any extra mustard can be fermented at room temperature for another 5-7 days; after that it should be refrigerated. To make wrapping easier, hold the banana leaves over a gas flame to soften and become more flexible.