Steamed Hilsa aka Bhapa Ilish
The Bengali community in Portland was abuzz with the news that a middle eastern store had started selling Bengali fish!This would be the only store that sells good old Bangali maach, so I was quite excited. We had a Bangladeshi store a few years ago who stocked a pretty good variety of fish, but he seemed to have shut down. So I could hardly wait to go and buy some ilish for ourselves. It's been a few years since I had Ilish. It is available only during the monsoons even in India and it's been a while that I have been back home during the rains.
Hilsa is rich in fatty omega-3 and is full of very fine little bones. But it had a distinct delicious taste and sometimes I feel nature has given it so many bones to make you really work hard before a delicious meal! Ilish can be made in many ways but the most popular Bengali style is steamed Hilsa with mustard paste and mustard oil.
More information on Hilsa can he read here.
I am not sure what the weight the packet of fish I bought was. I would guess about 1 or 1.5 lb. it was about 10 pieces (mix of both small and large size pieces).
10 pieces of Hilsa
3 green chillies (or more if you can take the heat)
1/2 cup mustard seeds
pinch of turmeric
2 tbsp grated coconut
salt to taste
Soak the mustard seeds in some warm water for about 20-30 minutes before grinding them. Marinate the fish pieces in salt. Grind the mustard seeds, 2 green chillies and coconut to a fine paste. Remember to add some salt while grinding the mustard. Add water as needed to make it a smooth fine paste. Though I have never tested it, my mother says the mustard gets a bitter taste if you grind without the salt.
Spread the fish out in a single layer in the pressure cooker separator containers. Mix a pinch of turmeric with this paste and pour over the fish such that the pieces are all coated in the paste. The paste should not be very watery. Pour a generous helping of mustard oil on the fish and paste. Put in the pressure cooker and steam for 2 or 3 whistles.
Variation: A traditional way of cooking this is to wrap the marinated fish and mustard paste individually in banana leaves and grilling them in the banana leaves. Tastes delicious but I did not have banana leaves and the weather here in December is way too cold to think about outdoor grilling :-)