Friday, August 30, 2013

Ilish Maacher Jhaal - Hilsa Cooked in Mustard & White Poppy Seed Sauce

Ilish, or Hilsa as it is known in English, is a Bengali delicasy. 

The spawning habits of this fish reminds me of the salmon runs in Alaska. In the city where I live in Michigan, USA, Bangladeshi & South Indian grocery stores stock flash frozen Hilsa. In Bengal, India, this fish is always eaten fresh, never frozen. 

Hilsa is notorious for its bones, so it definitely is an acquired taste. My Father would soak this fish overnight, bones and all, in vinegar and salt and roast it the next day in the oven. The resulting aroma and melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness is something I will never forget. The vinegar works overnight to melt the bones, so every part of the fish is edible.

This preparation with a mustard/poppy seed sauce is the typical way this fish is cooked in the Bengali kitchen.

1 lb. Ilish or any white fish, cut in steaks
6 + 1 Tbsp. mustard or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. mustard seeds, soaked overnight with salt
1 Tbsp. white poppy seeds , soaked in ½ cup boiling water until water cools
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
4 green chillies, slit
Salt to taste

1.   Marinate fish pieces in turmeric & salt for 30 minutes.
2.   Rinse mustard seeds in several changes of water.
3.   Grind mustard seeds in blender with ½ cup water, salt & 1 green chili.
4.   Strain mustard paste and keep liquid & solids in separate bowls.
5.   Grind poppy seeds in blender with soaking water & ½ tsp. salt.
6.   Strain poppy seed paste and keep liquid & solids in separate bowls.
7.   Combine liquids from blended pastes and set aside.
8.   Combine solids from blended pastes & set aside to use in Shukto.
9.   Lightly fry fish pieces over medium-high heat.
10. Pour liquid from blended pastes over fried fish and bring to a boil.
11. Lower heat to minimum and simmer for 5 minutes, basting fish with gravy.
12. Adjust salt to taste, garnish with 1 Tbsp. mustard oil & 3 green chilies.

Transfer to serving dish and serve hot over steamed Basmati rice.

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