Machha ko jhol - White fish (carp, perch, seabass) in mustard & onion sauce

Santosh  Shah

Santosh Shah

9th February 2022
Santosh  Shah

Machha ko jhol - White fish (carp, perch, seabass) in mustard & onion sauce

180 min

Nepal has a culture of outdoor cooking.

Even riverbanks are used as kitchens.

Dried wood can be gathered to start a fire, and a pestle and mortar made with two rocks. The advantage of cooking near the river is eating fish at its freshest, shortly after it has been caught. The traditional way of cooking fish usually includes a short marinade, a deep-fry, then a final simmering in curry sauce. 

We use rohu fish for this recipe, a very common type of carp in Nepal. You can sometimes find rohu fish in Asian fish markets. If not, perch, or even seabass, is a good alternative. The pungent mustardy base of this curry sauce really suits the sweet taste of freshwater fish or seabass.

Serve with Kaguna Ko Pulao (Yellow Millet Pulao), Bhat (Plain Rice) and Kurkure Pyaj (Onion Crisps, optional).


  • 600g (21oz) river fish fillet, such as carp or perch (or you can use seabass) Vegetable oil, for deep-frying


  • 2 tablespoons ginger paste 2 tablespoons garlic paste 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder 2 tablespoons rice flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon lemon juice ½ tablespoon vegetable oil


  • 3 tablespoons mustard oil ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds 2 red onions, finely sliced 1 teaspoon Sarso Ledo (Yellow Mustard Paste, see page 197), or wholegrain mustard 1¼ teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chilli powder,
  • or medium hot chilli powder 1 teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste 2 tomatoes, cut into quarters and deseeded 250ml (1 cup) fish stock, or water 4 fresh green bird’s eye chillies, sliced lengthways A pinch of sugar (optional) 2 tablespoons fresh coriander,
  • finely chopped


Clean the fish and dry well using a clean kitchen towel (dishcloth), then cut into 4-cm (1½-in) slices.

Place all the marinade ingredients into a bowl and mix into a paste. Add the fish and mix well, making sure all the fish cubes are coated.
Place in the refrigerator for 1–2 hours.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over high heat.
When the oil starts smoking, fry the fish cubes, in batches, for 3–5 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper (paper towels). Set aside.
(Alternatively, you could shallow-fry the fish in a large, non-stick frying pan using either mustard oil or vegetable oil. Make sure the bottom of the pan is covered with oil.)
Make the sauce in a deep pan or casserole dish, heat the mustard oil to smoking point and add the dark mustard seeds. When they start to crackle, add the onions and sauté for 5–8 minutes over a medium heat, until they become translucent.
Add the mustard paste or wholegrain mustard and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, chilli powder and salt. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft. Add the fish stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 2–3 minutes.
Now add the fried fish and green chillies. Leave to simmer for a further 6-8 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt (and sugar) and gently stir in the chopped coriander

Serve at once with pulao or plain rice, and onion crisps on the side.

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