Kochu Paatai Ilish: The Quintessential Steamed Bengali Monsoon Delicacy
- Rittwik Naskar
Updated : July 27, 2022 03:07 IST
The love story between Hilsa fish and Bengalis is a tale as old as time.
The love story between Hilsa fish and Bengalis is a tale as old as time. This migratory fish has dug its roots straight into the hearts of all Bengalis, so much so that it was declared as the national fish of Bangladesh. Hilsa harvest starts from the early onset of monsoon and when into each heart some rain does fall, it is only time, it is only time that Hilsa must appear on our plates. The fish is often termed as ‘the king of fish’ due to its sweet taste, but it is definitely not one for the faint-hearted. The fish is bony, and in its raw form has quite a pungent smell which might drive away those that are unaccustomed. But for the initiated, once monsoon arrives with its bounty, Ilish is all the rave. Renowned Bengali poet Buddhadeb Basu quite rightly deemed the fish to be “joler rupoli shoshyo” which means the silvery crop emanating from the rivers.
For a ‘maach-e bhaat-e Bangali' it is unfair to stick to only one of its preparations when there’s a myriad of ways to cook Hilsa herring, or ‘Ilish maach’. Ask any Bengali and they would attest that mustard goes with Ilish like a hand to a glove, that combination is unanimously unmatched. But for the purposes of this recipe, we’re going to go a step further. ‘Kochu’ or Taro or Colocasia esculenta, is a tropical plant similar to yams that is infamous for its edible leaves, underwater roots and stalks. It is highly celebrated in South Asian cuisines and in Bengal it is no different, given how the region has wetlands which is the perfect breeding ground for this plant. Taro leaves can often be itchy upon consumption but to the trained eye, it is not so difficult to spot ‘Kochu paata’ that can be sweet and not irritable. It serves as the perfect vessel for the fish to get steamed in and also acts as the commendable leafy green in the dish where everyone agrees the fish is the prominent hero. So, if you’re not yet drooling with anxious anticipation for this delectable delicacy, here’s all the ingredients you’ll need and steps you’ll need to follow to make it for yourself and your entire family.
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- 6 medium-sized whole Taro leaves, washed and patted dry.
- 2-3 Taro leaves cut coarsely.
- 6 cut pieces of Hilsa Fish, washed delicately.
- 5 tbsp Mustard paste.
- 2 tbsp Green chilly paste or simply, slit 4-5 Green chillies.
- 4 tbsp Poppy seed paste.
- 1 tsp Kalonji/ Nigella seeds.
- 6-7 tbsp of Mustard Oil.
- 2 tbsp Turmeric Powder.
- 1 tbsp Salt. (adjust according to your preference)
- Cotton Kitchen Thread.
- Make a marinade out of mustard paste, poppy seed paste, green chilly paste or slit chillies, kalonji, turmeric powder, salt and 3-4 tbsp of mustard oil. The marinade’s consistency shouldn’t be runny or too thick. It should be so that each piece of fish is covered well.
- Add the cut pieces of hilsa fish to the marinade.
- Add the cut pieces of Taro leaves to the marinade and mix well.
- Once the fish has marinated for 30 minutes to an hour, start applying the rest of the 2-3 tbsp of mustard oil to the whole Taro leaves on its greener side. Add more if required or according to the size of the leaves.
- Put the individual pieces of fish on the oiled side of the whole leaf. Add a bit of the marinade on top with pieces of cut leaves.
- Fold the leaf onto itself so that the fish and the contents get completely covered. Make a parcel out of the leaf and be gentle while you’re doing so.
- Once the parcel holds its shape and nothing is peeking or leaking out, go ahead and tie it up both length and breadth wise so as to secure it whilst cooking.
- Bring out your trusty pressure cooker and put a heat withstanding stainless steel stand in the bottom.
- Put the fish parcels in a steel tiffin box and close it.
- Lower the tiffin box upon the stand inside the cooker.
- Add water upto an inch below the opening of the box. Close the pressure cooker lid.
- Turn the flame on to a low simmer. Allow the contents inside the cooker to steam for 10 minutes.
- Hilsa fish is very delicate and doesn’t require long to cook. Nevertheless, once the 10 minutes is up, let it all rest for 10 more minutes without opening the lid.
This recipe serves 6 people or simply one famished Bengali. But jokes apart, once the 20 minutes on the stovetop is over, carefully take out the steel tiffin box. Open it once there’s a plate of steamed white rice ready to accompany Ilish maacher paturi. Untie the threads and enjoy your handiwork, leaves and all!