Let me introduce you to Hilsa or Ilish, as the Bengalis call it, a fish which is a delight to enjoy. This most delicate fish is a delicacy in itself and is cultivated in Bangladesh. From there, it is exported to West Bengal each year during this period and is most warmly looked forward to. I have been enjoying it during my various visits to Calcutta over the years. This year gladly, I could lay my hands on it in Delhi. And then a North Indian Punjabi in me made Shorshe Diye Ilish Maachh Bhapa (Steamed Hilsa in Mustard Sauce) and Ilish Maachh Bhaja (Fried Hilsa) and enjoyed it over at least four meals. If you are able to lay your hands on this Wonder Fish which is full of flavours, do try these simple recipes in your kitchen.
It so happened that Priyobrata Dey, a Bengali colleague of mine, who lives in Chitranjan Park (CR Park), a Bengali Colony in South Delhi, told me that this year the market there had got Hilsa from Bangladesh. Since it was Navratras, I expressed my inability to even venture there to have a look, leave aside buying it. He said he was not sure though but it could still be available even after one week. On the first available opportunity, I landed in CR Park. And yes, it was still available. I was excited and had posted this news on my social media. You may read it here. I am not familiar with the technique of buying fish. So, Priyobrata helped me in selecting and buying. Before I could carry it back home, he gave me a strict advice not to fry it but to do it only the traditional Shorshe way. Frankly, I had bought about 1 KG and in no way we could have finished it in one go. Also, I wanted to try and enjoy at least two versions. Therefore, couldn’t help trying a fried version too (sorry Priyobrata).
Before I move to the recipes, a quick brief about Hilsa or Ilish for those readers who might not be aware about this beauty called Hilsa.
Hilsa is a food fish and is the National Fish of Bangladesh. It is very oily and very tender. Although it is found in almost 11 countries, including India, however, the best quality Hilsa is found in Chandpur city in Bangladesh. It is amongst the most oily fish and its meat is like silky soft. When cooked, which takes a very less time, the flesh comes out a very delicate and soft. Is not flaky, at all. Enjoying the fish is a bit tedious job as it has many small bones. However, the lovers of Ilish confide that it is worth the effort since it tastes so good. It has a strong smell and when you cook this, particularly if you fry, even neighbours would come to know that fish is being cooked in your home.
Ilish Maachh Bhaja
Hilsa Fried or Ilish Maachh Bhaja or Hilsa Fish Fry is very easy to make. In fact it is not at all a complex preparation, an easy thing to do.
First, wash the steaks of the fish under a running water. Please do not over wash the fish as it may drain out the oil from it. Pat dry and keep it aside for a while.
If the fish has Roe (fish eggs) take it out and keep those lumps aside.
Ingredients: Hilsa Fish Steaks, Salt, Turmeric Powder and Mustard Oil for frying
Marination: Assemble the fish steaks in a plate and sprinkle Salt and Turmeric Powder over it. Use your fingers and gently massage it on each side, including the cavities of the steaks. Keep it aside for few minutes. Please note that Hilsa is a delicate fish. So, handle it gently with soft hands.
Heat and smoke some Mustard Oil in a pan. Please ensure that the oil level is such that at least half of the height of the fish steak is inside the oil while frying.
It is desirable to fry the Roe first for it gets done earlier than the fish. Once done, take out and keep aside.
Now gently slide Hilsa steaks in the oil and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, till it becomes dark. Once done, take them out in a plate.
Your Ilish Maachh Bhaja or the Fish Fry is ready to be enjoyed. You could enjoy it as it is or with Rice.
Once the frying is done, you may also take out and keep the oil as it would have the flavours of the fish and could be used later. One could also use it for flavouring the rice while eating with Hilsa.
Shorshe Diye Ilish Maachh
This Steamed Fish In Mustard Sauce is normally done with Hilsa. Again, this is not a very complex or elaborative dish and could done with ease. However, as compared to the fried version, this needs some preparation.
Ingredients: Hilsa Fish Steaks (3-4), 2 Tbsp Curd / Yoghurt, 2 Tbsp Yellow Mustard Seeds. 1 Tbsp Black Mustard Seeds, 3 Green Chillies, 1/4th Tsp of Sugar, 1 Tsp of Turmeric Powder, Salt To Taste and 2 Tbsp Mustard Oil.
Preparation: Soak both types of Mustard Seeds, separately, in very little water. Finely chop one Green Chilli.
In a grinder, add the Mustard Seeds, the chopped Green Chilli and some Salt. Add few drop of water and grind it to a thick paste. It may take 2-3 rounds of grinding by adding water few drops each time to make it into a paste.
Assembly and Marination:
Once the paste is done, take a Tiffin Box which has a tight lid. Transfer the Mustard Paste in the box. Now add Curd (whisked), Turmeric Powder, Salt and give it a mix. Now add Mustard Oil and again give it a mix. Now add Sugar and again mix it. Your Sauce Mix is ready. Please note that the paste would have a slightly thick consistency and the would have flakes of the black mustard.
Now, place the Fish Steaks gently in the sauce and with your hands, cover the fish with the marination. Please ensure that the steaks are covered with the marination from all the sides. Slit the remaining Green Chillies and place them atop the steaks. Cover the box with the lid, tightly and keep aside for about 15 minutes.
Steaming / Cooking:
Take a wide vessel and fill the bottom with water. The level of the water should be such that when the Tiffin is placed in it, the water level is up to half of its height. Let the water come to a boil. Then lower the flame and keep the Tiffin Box in the water and cover it with a lid.
Let it simmer and get steamed for 15 minutes. Do not open the lid during this time. After 15 minutes, take the Tiffin Box out, carefully and keep it aside for about 5 minutes. After giving it a rest, carefully open the lid and your Hilsa would be sitting pretty in the golden Mustard Sauce.
Enjoy it with Rice. Not only the fish would come out as silken soft, the sauce also would go very well with the rice.
I am glad that I could make it to Chitranjan Park this year during this period. Thanks to the gang which made the visit a good fun.
So, if you love Bengali Food (being a non-bengali), if you love mustard flavour and if you love fish, Hilsa or Ilish is a real treat. If you cannot lay your hands on Hilsa, try these recipes with any other fish. You will not be disappointed. Do share your fish Cooking / Enjoying experiences with me. Till then…..
You can read here about my earlier visit to this locality when the local food in this colony delighted me a lot.
Bon Appetite !!