It’s raining buckets and in Bengal, with monsoon, comes the chance to gorge on…what else, but “Ilish maach”, aka the Hilsa. And if I haven’t bored you already, I shall successfully do so in the post, when I go on and on about the magic of Hilsa 😀 Because frankly, in spite of being laden with landmine-esque bones, the Hilsa has got to be one of the tastiest fishes. Now you can prepare Ilish, or Hilsa in numerous ways (even gourmet styles if you must), but one of its most popular avatars is the Ilish Paturi, or steam-cooked Hilsa, wrapped in Banana leaf. I have taken this classic dish, and made it using Pumpkin leaves (you can use Bottle gourd or Colocasia leaves as well).
I did mention that traditionally, this dish is made with banana leaves. The fish steaks are smeared with salt and turmeric and a thick paste of mustard seeds, along with some mustard oil and a handful of chilies (depending on your heat tolerance). The masala coated fish is then securely wrapped in a banana leaf (that you sort of roast a bit on a griddle first), tied with a string, and steam-cooked. Alternately, you can also roast it in a pan with some mustard oil. The banana leaves are, of course, discarded, but you can make this with Pumpkin or Bottle Gourd leaves and even Colocasia leaves, all of which are edible! Double fun. I went with Pumpkin leaves because that’s our favourite; they taste absolutely smashing!!!
I have made Ilish Paturi before, with banana leaves and a filling/masala made purely of mustard paste (shorshe bata), but it came close to torture for me; I have extremely sensitive olfactory nerves and pungent food makes me very uneasy. I remember once, just before my 10th birthday, I broke out into mysterious rashes. Turned out it was caused by onions that Mom was chopping for my birthday feast… *eye roll*…so basically, my pungency meter is off, and thus I strayed from the classic recipe, and used some fresh Coconut and Kasundi (Bengali mustard) to make the paste.
This year, our fish vendor seems to think it’s his duty to send us exotic fishes, just because Dad told him that I write for a newspaper (Telegraph), and just the other day, I needed some fresh Hilsa rather urgently for an article. So the dude has been dumping Bhetki (Barramundi) and Hilsa and other varieties at our doorstep, with the promise of “Dada bhalo na lagle poisha deben na” (Sir, don’t pay me if you don’t like the fish). So bowing down to such pressure is inevitable, and I end up cooking something or other. In fact, we had lunch with Hilsa ruling the roost; Mom made a concoction called “Ilish Muro diye Chenchra”, which is basically a mish-mash of veggies like potatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, pumpkin leaves, and the head of the Hilsa fish. It is divine, and only someone who’s had it knows how much of a delicacy it can be! There are several variations to this, and you can skip or add ingredients as you go…. So that and Paturi, with hot rice…heaven!!!
I’m a tad disappointed with today’s clicks; it’s so hard to take photographs when it’s raining heavily, and with dishes like this you can’t really wait for the clouds to dissipate. Once the wrap is opened, the fish must be eaten hot, and unlike banana leaves, pumpkin leaves are very delicate. So I was clicking at super-sonic speed today, and I wish I had better clicks to share 😦
This is a very simple dish to make, seriously, all you need to do is find some fresh Pumpkin leaves (or any other, or even Aluminum foil if you’re desperate but have no greenery) 😀 You can cook this in a rice-steamer, pressure cooker, in a pan or broil/bake/grill them in an oven/microwave. I like slow roasting on a pan because it gives the leaves a beautiful crispy exterior, and you can enjoy your rice with the ‘oil’ these have been fried in. Just secure the leaves very well with a string; I used thread because I didn’t have any string, and tied them so securely, that I felt like sobbing while I was unraveling the thread Oh well… So once you have slathered on the masala, just wrap the leaves, tie them, and fry them in mustard oil, adding a lid to let the fish cook.
You can have these as it is, but I strongly recommend having them with rice; you’ll need something to eat the masala with. Also, adjust the pungency and the heat as per your spice tolerance; I’ve kept it to a medium. And if you cannot find Kasundi (Bengali mustard), go for plain old mustard paste, or mustard powder (NOT American/English/French mustard please!) 😀
Kumro Pataye Ilish Paturi (Hilsa cooked in Pumpkin Leaf)
- Hilsa/Ilish maach – 6, steak cuts, no head or tail preferably
- Turmeric – 1 tsp, for smearing the fish with
- Salt – to taste (and extra 1 tsp for the masala paste)
- Coconut – 1 small or 1/2 a large one, grated (only fresh, not desiccated or dry coconut)
- Kasundi (Bengali mustard) – 2 tbsp (adjust if you like more pungency)
- Green chilies – 5 to 6 (adjust as per spice tolerance)
- Mustard oil – 1 to 2 tbsp for each fish, 2 tbsp for the masala paste, and 2-3 tbsp for frying the paturi (about 3/4th cup total)
- Pumpkin leaves – 6, large enough to cover the fish
- White string/thread – to bind the fish
- Clean the fish very well, leave it to drain and once the water has drained off, smear it with salt and turmeric.
- Keep aside as you prepare the masala.
- Grate a coconut, and use about 1 cup of the grated flesh, plus the Kasundi, green chilies and the mustard oil to make a semi-smooth paste in a chutney grinder. Use 1 tbsp water if the paste is too dry, but not more.
- Once the masala is ready, lay out the leaves, and smear with a bit of mustard oil.
- Place a dollop of masala on the leaf base, roughly in the shape and size of each hilsa steak, and place the fish on it.
- Top the fish with more masala, ensuring the steaks are covered with a thick coating of masala.
- Now add a tbsp or so of mustard oil on top of each masala-coated fish.
- Lastly, place a whole green chili, and gently wrap each fish with the pumpkin leaves, tying it securely with a string/thread.
- Heat the remaining mustard oil in a non-stick pan, and let it smoke.
- Place each fish parcel (PATURI) in the oil, and keeping the flame on low, let it sear.
- Cover with a lid, and let the fish cook.
- Flip the fish parcels after 4-5 mins, and let the other side sear as well.
- Your Ilish Paturi should be done in about 12 to 15 mins, as soon as you smell the sweet cooked Hilsa fragrance.
- Sear the paturi for an additional 30 secs or so if you want a crispy leafy exterior.
- Serve hot with steamed rice; use the oil the fish paturis were cooked in, and have it rice. (Don’t forget to cut and discard the string 😉 )