In Bengali homes Hilsa is a prized catch during Monsoon. Though Podda’r ilish (Hilsa from the river Padma) is known to be the king of all Hilsas but the scarcity and huge price of this fish makes it an unrealized dream for most Bengalis. These days the Hilsas has just started making their most awaited appearance in the market and the Bengali babus or bhadrolok (gentleman) are getting crazy over it. Last week while doing my grocery shopping I heard someone saying how he is planning to go to Raichak and Diamond harbour over the weekends to get the freshet of the catch directly from the fishermen. I can totally imagine him driving 50 kms at the crack of the dawn to lay their hands over the catch of the day. The price would be soaring over there but who thinks of that. A good Sorshe Ilish will compensate everything.
Though our previous generations sighs and says ‘sei ilish aj ar kothay, ak barite ranna hole anyo barite gandho dhukto’ which literally translates to ‘gone are those days of good hilsa when cooking the fish at home meant everyone in the neighbour hood would get the aroma. But still they will scout the market in the morning. Even would save the phone number of their favourite fish monger and would ask them every morning ‘kire aj bhalo ilish peli? (did you get a good hilsa today?). you might not trust me but I have seen two bhadrolok actually quarelling over a piece of good ilish to decide who laid hand over that first, and the fish seller just sitting back and enjoying the whole scenario. Kindergarten behaviour, but that’s how it is. We bongs are crazy and fussy over this fish.
For example in my mamar bari (Maternal uncle’s place) always the whole fish is bought. They believe that if we cut the fish and wash it, the taste and aroma is lost to some extent. So when the whole hilsa comes home (almost like a new bride, minus the ulu and arti) it is scaled , the gills are cut and cleaned then it is thoroughly washed to remove all the remaining scale and dirt. Finally it is cut and pieces are made just before they are about to be fried.
All said and done today am sharing a dish featuring the head of hilsa. Not as meaty as other fish heads but definitely more flavourful and tasty. Hilsa head cooked with malabar spinach is a monsoon special dish in Bengal. A very light and flavourful first course dish to ready the tastebuds for the more fishy dishes that follows.
Ilish macher matha die Pui Chorchori
Malabar Spinach: 3 cups; chopped (do not throw away the stems,remove the slin and cut them in 1” pieces)
Pumpkin: 1 cup (peeled and cubed)
Potato: 1 big (peeled and cubed)
Panch foron: 1 tsp
Dry red chili: 1 piece
Green chillies: 2 pieces
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Sugar: ½ tsp
Mustard oil: 2 tbsp
Hilsa head: 1 small or ½ of a big one
Rub salt and turmeric to the fish head and keep aside for 15 minutes.
Mix the ginger-cumin-coriander in ¼ cup of water and keep aside.
Heat the oil and fry the fish head on medium till golden on all sides. Drain and keep aside.
In the same oil add the panch foron and torn dry chilies. Once they start to splutter add the spice mix, turmeric and salt. Fry on low till you see oil start oozing out. Mix in the hilsa head and with your spatula break it. Also add all the vegetables and mix everything together. Cover.
Let it cook on medium for 8-10 minutes. During this time the vegetables will release lot of water and will get cooked in its own juice. Mix with the spatula from time to time.
When the water dries out check if the veggies are cooked or add little water and keep on cooking till the veggies are soft. The dish should be with coating gravy and pumpkins should be very soft almost mushy.
Adjust the gravy as per your wish.
Finish with the sugar and serve warm with rice.
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