One day one colleague of mine while complimenting me on my skin commented "You have such good skin, because you people eat lot of fishes."....True, Bengali is one such homosapien race who have fishes as an integral part to their diet. Now, of all the fishes, Ilish aka Hilsa is a true blue darling to us. There is hardly any Bengali who doesn’t like fishes and who doesn’t drool over Hilsa. When it comes to Ilish, Bengalis just get starry-eyed. We wait patiently for monsoon to feast on varieties of delicacies prepared with Ilish. I know apart from Bengalis, very few people outside Bengal know that we love hilsa only when it is fished out of the river. Ilish originally grows in sea and so is salty in taste. But we Bengalis don’t have an appetite for salty fishes. We are fond of fishes bred in the sweet water of rivers and ponds. Only when during monsoon Ilish enters the inland rivers to lay eggs, it develops a heavenly taste coming in touch with the sweet river. In Kolkata, a number of culinary festivals are held showcasing Ilish as the main delicacy. A diversified range of preparations are concocted with hilsa in those festivals, each one outdoing the other in taste.
The recipe below is adapted from a book on fishes by Sadhana Mukherjee. I tried this one for the first time and amazingly everyone in my family liked it.
Ingredients: Cooking time: 15 minutes
ü 6 pieces of Ilish
ü 1 cup of coconut milk (I used canned coconut milk)
ü 2 tsp cumin seeds (turned into paste)
ü 5-6 green chillies (slit in the middle)
ü 1 tsp turmeric powder
ü Salt to taste
ü 1 tsp sugar
ü A pinch of garam masala powder
ü Mustard oil for cooking
ü 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
ü 2 bay leaves
1) Heat oil in a wok. When oil becomes piping hot, add the ingredients for sauté and allow them to sputter.
2) Then add green chillies and cumin paste. Sauté for 1 minute. Pour the coconut milk.
3) When coconut milk reduces to half and oil floats on the surface, slide in the fish pieces.
4) Add sugar and salt. Cook covered for 5 minutes till the gravy becomes dry.
5) Sprinkle garam masala powder on top. Serve hot with rice.