Kolkata has a very strange relationship with monsoon. Till such time it begins, everyone yearns for it. However, the excitement, love and that sense of satisfaction lasts only till the first or the second spell of shower. There are still parts of Kolkata which gets heavily waterlogged when it rains for even half an hour. The condition of the roads worsen by the hour, traffic slows down and the challenge remains in remembering all the alternate routes to your home. In all that madness, a plateful of rice and doi ilish brings in joy to our lives. Here’s the story.
Our first Monsoon as a couple
Madhushree and I were stuck in such a traffic bottleneck last week and remembered an incident which happened a decade back. Newly weds that we were, it was our first monsoon as a couple. A new home for both of us and two new souls starting to discover each other. Albeit there was the age old argument of wet towels on the bed, toilet seat differences and share holding pattern of the shoe rack. We had however, found a common thread, which was the strongest. It was food.
It was one of those days in July/August when monsoon was at its peak. Some celebration, coupled up with a light drizzle all afternoon, triggered a quick beer with a functional head. Yes, I was an HR professional with immense pride in my work.
The first time I bought Fish
On our way back, driving through crazy traffic and in a slight tipsy state, we stopped to buy fish. It was 9.30 in the evening. I had never bought fish before in my life, but alcohol in blood streams can make you do crazy things. And I did the same. I bought Hilsa for the first time in my life. I won’t deny that I had some help from a colleague. When Madhushree opened the door, she didn’t know how to react. We had dinner well past midnight.
In your first year of marriage did something like this happen to you? Come share with us. Speaking of Hilsa – this is one dish which has been in tradition in my home, one of my mom’s best . She gladly passed on the recipe to Madhushree.
Doi Ilish how my Ma Cooks
I don’t think anyone can cook this as well as Ma can. Till date, whenever Madhushree cooks it, she makes it a point to get it tasted by Ma before serving. It is actually a very easy dish to cook as long as you are confident about the balance of flavours. And despite exact recipe, the taste may differ. Mustard paste can have a different strength each time. Same goes for the mustard oil. Yogurt may be on the sweeter side or more sour. So, one has to taste and balance the flavours. Having said said, Madhushree pretty much does a great job too and read on to follow the complete recipe.
Serving and Storing Doi Ilish
There is only one way to eat this- with steamed rice. Storing can be done for only 2 to 3 days. Storing cooked hilsa beyond that loses its’ flavour. And honestly, I wouldn’t freeze cooked hilsa at all. The texture and flavour would all disappear. You can of course, always freeze raw hilsa and thaw it to room temperature. Doi Ilish doesn’t take too long to cook.
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- 4-5 pieces Ilish or Hilsa steaks
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tbsp black mustard paste
- 1/2 cup hung curd
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp nigella seeds
- 4-5 green chillies
- 4 tbsp mustard oil
- 1-2 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Wash the fish pieces only once under running water. If you wash hilsa too much, the flavour reduces.
- Marinate the pieces of fish with salt and 1 tsp of turmeric powder and keep aside.
- In case you have a mustard paste of black mustard, make sure to strain it properly to remove the black skins or else the paste kind of becomes bitter.
- In a wok or a frying pan, pour a tbsp of mustard oil and lightly fry thefish pieces. With Hilsa, one doesn’t need too much oil since the fish by itselfis very oily and some of them ooze out oil. So eventually, you are left with excess oil in the pan, which is great for your sauce.
- This should not take more than a minute and half. It is best to just place the fish in the pan with the hot oil and flip within 30 – 40 seconds keeping the other side for an equal amount of time. The purpose is just to add a bit of colour without drying out the fish. Once the fish is done, take them out of the pan and keep aside.
- To prepare the sauce/ gravy, using the oil from the pan, plus another couple of table spoons of mustard oil. When the oil is hot, add the nigella seeds and a couple of whole green chilies (break them into two) and let them splutter.
- Immediately add the mustard paste, turmeric powder and red chili powder and season with salt.
- Keeping the heat at a medium, cook the mustard paste till the raw smell from the turmeric goes off. Sprinkle some water if you like to keep the paste from sticking to the pan.
- Beat the hung curd in a bowl and then add to the sauce. Remember to lower the heat or else the curd will split. Add a little bit of water and cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes.
- Add the fish pieces along with the pan juices from the fish. Add the desired amount of water and let the gravy simmer.
- Season with salt and add sugar to balance the sourness from the curd. Then let it cook for about 5 – 10 minutes till it releases oil and it starts to float on top.
- Finally slit the balance green chilies and add them.
- Serve hot with steamed rice.
- Depending on the sourness of the yogurt, sometimes sugar is not even required and sometimes little more.
- In case you feel that the yogurt may split on adding to the gravy, then whisk it well with a tsp of bengal gram powder (besan) or even maida and then add to the gravy.
- For black mustard paste, soak 2- 3 tbsp of black mustard in water for 15 minutes. After that grind it with a green chilli and a tbsp of mustard oil and just enough water to have a smooth paste. Strain it and keep in the fridge. Use as required. If you want to store for more than 3 days, freeze it.