Machi Bhat (Coconut Fish with Biryani Rice)

Machi Bhat

Machi Bhat

So my hubby and I had a debate, what exactly is Machi Bhat? His says that it is a coconut curry served with yellow rice. My opinion was that its like a fish biryani, only with the addition of coconut. I think I win, since I’ve actually lived in Africa. Sometimes my logic doesn’t work for anyone. Despite the debate, we agreed that it was a really tasty meal and lived happily ever after!

When my mother was visiting some family, she made this. I got samachaar (news) of how nice it was all the way here! So as soon as she flew here, I stocked up on my beloved tilapia loins from Costco and asked her to show me a simplified version. The best way to make this recipe is to prepare all the ingredients in advance.

Since this is a very decadent meal, I’m thinking of trying to make it a lower-fat version, instead of frying the fish I’m going to baking it,  boil the potatoes instead of frying them, and use light coconut milk thickened with flour. Hmm, or maybe not!

Machi Bhat is usually served on special occasions like Eid or to impress a prospective groom, I’m just kidding!

Recipe: Machi Bhat

Also known as: Maachi Bhaat/Coconut Fish with Biryani Rice

Categories: Main Dishes; seafood, Rice Dishes; main dish

Servings: 6


Ingredients for the fish marinade:

  • 2 large pieces of tilapia fish, about 250 grams (you can use any fish including halibut, salmon. I prefer skinless & boneless)
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder (hardar)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder (dhanna powder)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder (jeera powder)
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients for the fish gravy:

  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • 1 green chili or dried red chili
  • 1 cinnamon stick (taj)
  • 3 cloves (laving)
  • 4 black peppercorns (mari)
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds (jeera seeds)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato puree, level
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder (hardar)
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/8 tsp garam masala powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used canned, which is equal to the first press of fresh coconut a.k.a ghati tui)
  • 1/2 cup fried onions (ensure there is no flour coating if using store-bought onions)

Ingredients for potatoes:

  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, cut into slices (about 4mm thick)
  • Oil for deep-frying

Ingredients for rice:

  • 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • 3 tsp salt
  • water as needed

Additional ingredients:

  • oil for shallow frying
  • 1/4 tsp saffron strands soaked in 1/4 cup hot water
  • cilantro leaves
  • raisins (optional)


(directions below correspond with the ingredients above, e.g., ingredient listed under “For the fish marinade” corresponds with “Directions for fish marinade”)

Directions for fish marinade:

  • Defrost fish if using frozen.
Tilapia loins

Tilapia loins

  • Cut the fish into large chunks. Mix all the ingredients listed under “fish marinade” at the beginning of the recipe (to make a thick paste) and rub onto the fish. Marinate overnight in the fridge or at least for one hour.
Fish marinating

Fish in marinade

  • In a frying pan, heat some oil, about 1/4 cup, on medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the fish pieces.
Shallow frying the fish

Shallow frying the fish

  • Cover and cook in oil till browned on one side, with a fork turn over and cook other side. This is a very quick process taking a total of 5 minutes. Don’t over cook the fish.
Frying the fish

Frying the fish

  • Once done, remove on an unlined plate and set aside.

Directions for potatoes:

  • Deep fry the potatoes and when golden-brown, remove and blot on paper towels. Keep aside.
Fried potatoes

Fried potatoes

Direction for fish gravy:

  • To make the gravy, in a wide-bottomed pot, add the 3 Tbsp of oil.
  • When hot, add the green chili and whole spices (cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cumin seeds) and fry till they crackle.
Fry the spices

Fry the spices

  • Add the tomato puree, garlic, chili powder, turmeric and salt. Cook till the tomato paste darkens slightly.
  • Add the coconut milk and mix in.
  • In the fried onions, add the garam masala. Lightly crush the onions.
  • Add the fried onions  and once the mixture comes to a boil, lower heat.
Added coconut

Added coconut

  • Add 2 Tbsp of the saffron mixture (save some for the rice).
  • The resulting gravy consistency should be more on the thicker side. Cook more if needed.
  • To the gravy, gently add the fried fish and potatoes. Turn off the heat.
Added fried fish and potatoes

Added fried fish and potatoes

Instructions for the rice:

  • In a large pot boil water. Add salt and rice. Once rice is done, drain the water out and let the rice sit in the colander to let the excess water drain.
  • Add the rice back into the (now empty) pot, the pot’s remaining heat will dry the rice.

To assemble:

  • In a large oven proof dish (I’m using a glass 9’x13′ Pyrex dish), layer half of the rice. Drizzle on it, half of the remaining saffron water.
Drizzle saffron water on the cooked rice

Drizzle saffron water on the cooked rice

  • On the rice, evenly spread the fish, potatoes and gravy. Strategically place the fish so that every scoop of rice contains a piece.
Put the fish mixture on the rice

Put the fish mixture on the rice

  • Add the remaining rice on the fish and drizzle remaining saffron water.
  • Add the raisins/cilantro on the top to garnish (optional).
Add the remaining rice on top, drizzle saffron

Add the remaining rice on top, drizzle saffron

  • Cover with foil and bake at 250° F (120° C), for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to develop and raisins to plump.
The resulting dish is on the drier side, not like a curry

The resulting dish is on the drier side, not like a curry



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