I never thought I liked fish. But after I left home for PG studies 14 years ago, I realised I had taken this staple food for granted. I sorely missed the ‘maachher jhaal’ (fish fried in mustard oil tempered with kala jeera, slit green chillies and red chilli powder) and ‘doi maach’ cooked by my mother. And to my utter surprise, I would even find myself longing for that pungent and tangy ‘shorshe ilish’ — the ultimate Hilsa delicacy from Bengal. This is a fish for which a Bengali can even kill or die. While most Bengalis find its smell divine, it was the smell that would put me off. The smell that would not go from your fingers no matter how much you washed. It would stay with the utensils for days together, and just in case you kept the leftover in the fridge and forgot to cover it, the oranges inside would also start giving you the taste of Hilsa. But the same stinking Hilsa is now a favourite with me too as I started to appreciate its taste after being deprived of it for long. Here is the recipe.
Hilsa fish: 500g
Black/red mustard seed: 1/2 cup
Green chillies: 7-8
Mustard oil: To fry
Turmeric powder: 1 teaspoon
Juice of one small lemon (optional) Preparation: Soak the mustard seeds for at least half an hour, preferably in hot/warm water. Grind it with 3-4 green chillies and set aside. Heat oil in a pan and put 3-4 slit green chillies. Add the fish and turmeric powder and fry till cooked. Now add the mustard paste with a little water and stir for a couple of minutes. Turn off the flame and add lemon juice (optional) before serving hot with plain rice. Last words: You need to be a little careful while using mustard paste, which tends to turn bitter. Use freshly ground paste, and don’t cook it for long. You get readymade mustard paste (see photo) these days, which comes in powder form. You can use it according to the directions given on the pack. They taste quite authentic.