Saturday, July 28, 2012

Steamed Hilsa or Bhapa Ilish

Steamed Hilsa or Bhapa Ilish in mustard sauce or sorshe bata

A true Bengali will do anything for Hilsa fish. Front page news in leading Bengali dailies in West Bangal talks about Ilish- its production, import, export, price, quality, spawning etc. Such is the importance of the fish in the live of a Bengali. In my recent trip to Kolkata an entire hour long conversation with a neighbor revolved around Ilish and nostalgic memories pertaining to the fish. Scared, I would not bring up Ilish topic with anyone else, lest I be sequestered into listening to stories about how they caught Ilish in a gamcha (towel).  However, like many Bangalis I consider steamed Hilsa to be the ultimate Bengali dish.

Mustard paste
Cooked in mustard paste and mustard oil, the pungent flavor lent to the fish because of these key ingredients  makes the dish absolutely unique. Hilsa is a soft fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. There are numerous ways of cooking the fish and a connoisseur will know which fish to cook in what way. For instance not so matured fish oft called khoka Ilish (khoka is a young boy) should ideally be fried in mustard oil. In a recent post at foodprint I uploaded a video on buying Hilsa in Kolkata . Interestingly, the fish was delivered at my doorstep with the vendor telling my mother that the particular fish would taste best when steamed to which my mother readily agreed. So the Ilish was steamed by ma. The fish has a distinctive flavor and hence requires few ingredients.

Ilish yet to be coated properly

Hilsha/Ilish fish 6 pieces
Turmeric  ½ tea spoon
1 table spoon Mustard oil
4 whole green chillies (less or more according to taste)
Salt to taste

For the mustard sauce:
8 table spoon Mustard seeds soaked in water for an hour
½  teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of salt
3 green chilies
½ tea cup water
5 table spoon mustard oil


Clean the cut Hilsa and rub some salt, ½ tea spoon turmeric and 1 table spoon oil on the fish pieces and set aside.

Next to make the mustard sauce, grind the mustard seeds with half a tea cup of water and a pinch of salt. My mother uses the traditional sheel bata to grind the mustard, but I am told a good grinder also does the job well only you have to use a lot more mustard seeds. This you can easily refrigerate and use later. The green chilies and mustard goes to create the fiery pungent sauce. 

Once the sauce is ready, coat the fish with the sauce and add 5 tea spoon of mustard oil. Mix thoroughly. Transfer the fish pieces into a pressure cooker safe bowl with a lid and cook till you hear two whistles. Else cook in water bath for 40 minutes as shown below. There are various other ways of doing this fish and you can check out sunandaskitchen or bongcookbook for more variety.

Cooking on a water bath. Vessel with fish covered and the heavy sheel  placed on  top.

The end result is a phenomenal food experience. The taste is so unique that you will not mind picking through numerous fish bones with your hands and having your fingers stained with the turmeric yellow. A good Hilsa will just melt in your mouth. The hot chilies in the sauce are subdued to perfection with the mustard seeds and mustard oil giving the dish have just the right amount of fieriness when mixed with plain cooked rice. Paring cooked Hilsa fish with anything else is sacrilege in the Bong community.   

The grand final dish!

1 comment:

Anupam said...

Yummmyyy!!! My favorite :)