Today I am going to talk about my silver beauty. I was born and brought up in Silchar, Assam. A place named Karimganj is situated on the outskirts of the city, a walking distance from the Bangladesh border. May things come through the border: vegetables, people and my very own famous silver beauty, Padma ilish or Padmar hilsa (Padma is the river that flows through Bangladesh after the convergence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra). The smell and taste of this species of hilsa cannot be compared to other breeds. if you haven’t indulged yourself in this then believe me you have missed out on something in your life.
Bangals (people of East Bengal origin) cook it with onions whereas the people from West Bengal (Ghotis in colloquial Bengali) do so without onions. I belong to the onion clan; since my childhood, I have always had it with onions. And I got married into a family with origins in West Bengal. So the first time I saw the cooking of the famous bhapa ilish (steamed hilsa) from West Bengal, I was in a bit of a cultural shock, but it turned out to be a delightful surprise. I finished two pieces in no time. The taste made me forget about the etiquettes of a new bride. The taste is a bit different, but I am not the one to judge. I leave the verdict to the readers. The recipe I am sharing with you today is the one without onions and I have named it Shoshur badir shorshe ilish (Mustard hilsa at my in-laws’ place).
Servings: 4 persons
- Mustard oil
- Panchphoron (5 spices)
- Turmeric powder
- Chilli powder
- Hilsa: 4 pieces
The Hilsa is always washed first and then cut into pieces. This is done so that no aroma is lost. So take the 4 pieces and rub them with salt and turmeric. Keep aside for 10 minutes.
Mix the mustard paste to ¾ cup water and set side.
[stextbox id=”info” caption=”How to make mustard paste”]Add 6-7 teaspoons of mustard seeds to a little water in the grinder. Make the paste. Do not run the machine for long, else it will turn bitter. You can add some green chillies (without seeds) to neutralise the bitterness if it so happens. I generally make it this way and store the remaining in an airtight container in a refrigerator. It stays good for up to 2 weeks.[/stextbox]
Heat the mustard oil in a pan or kadhai and lightly fry the fish pieces (1-2 minutes). Drain and keep aside. In the same oil, add the slit green chillies and panchphoron (the green of fennel seed, black mustard and nigella seeds, golden fenugreek and buff-coloured cumin seeds). Once they splutter, carefully pour the mustard mix into the pan. Be careful not to add the black husk of the seeds. Add salt and turmeric and let it come to a boil.
Carefully place the hilsa pieces so that the gravy covers them. Cover with a lid and let it simmer on medium flame.
Turn after 3-4 minutes and let the gravy thicken. Check the seasoning and if needed add more slit green chillies. (If the green chillies are not very hot, add little red chilli powder. If you face the same problem add chilli powder but traditionally this is meant to be cooked only with fresh green chillies. This literally brings out the delicate flavour of hilsa combined with the mustard paste. Alternatively if the chillies are very hot then don’t cut them, rather with a heavy knife smash the chillies and add to the gravy. This gives a very good flavour without making it hot).
Once the water is absorbed and you have very thick gravy, pour 1 tsp oil over it. Mix well and serve hot over a bed of steamed white rice.