A ndia is a hotpot of a blend of culinary histories that have gradually merged into seamless fusion foods. The concept of ‘kofta’ (finely minced meatballs that cook in rich stews) was introduced to South Asian countries by the Persian spice merchants. This rich, succulent dish was probably what got watered down to the concept of muitha in traditional Bengali cuisine.
The term 'muitha' literally stands for muthi, the Bengali term for fist. Thus, the fish used in the dish is first deboned and then slowly moulded into round balls that resemble fist-like structures. These chunks are then dunked into a rich gravy and stewed to perfection. The other manner in which this may be prepared is by boiling the fish koftas first and then shallow frying them before adding them to the broth. This ensures that the fish’s moisture is sealed in with a protective fried layer. The dish is specially cooked with Chitol (Indian Clown Knife fish), which has few bones and can be moulded into ball-like dumplings easily.
A Bangal (East Bengal, or present-day Bangladesh) recipe by origin, Chitol Macher Muitha is savoured ideally with a bowl of steaming rice and a tablespoon of ghee drizzled on it. The stew that is prepared is made from the ingredients used in any homemade chicken or mutton broth. A generous helping of ginger and garlic paste is added to chopped onions, whole garam masala spices, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, chopped chillies and tomatoes. The use of mustard oil is a must, as it lends the perfect pungency to the fish balls.
This preparation is testimony to Bengal's immense love for its fish. While there are other forms of meat available, be it mutton, chicken or duck for instance, the affinity towards fish has largely remained unadulterated for Bengali folks over the years. It is probably also because the region enjoys numerous varieties of both freshwater fish and sea fish -- each of them comes with its own distinct flavour and texture. There are as many different ways to cook and serve these fish.
Chitol Macher Muitha is a rather labour-intensive preparation. Right from finding the right cut of the Chitol fish (which is relatively a large fish); scraping raw fish from the cut with a spoon and ensuring there is no bone left in the flesh; mixing the dry ingredients in the right proportions so that these fish dumplings get cooked and yet retain their moisture, till making that luscious gravy in which the fish muithas are finally dunked -- each step in the process needs detailed attention. One can only imagine the depth of the flavours in the resulting dish. Unfortunately, it is also because of this cumbersome method of preparation that Chitol Macher Muitha has become somewhat of an exotic dish and is only prepared on special occasions.