I didn’t grow up in a house where bhaapa ilish or steamed hilsa was made. So this legendary Bengali dish had an even greater aura for me.
Bhaapa Ilish was one of the first things I tried to make with recipes posted on the internet by Bengali ladies settled abroad. One of the recipes suggested putting the hilsa in a steel ‘tiffin box’ and then floating it in a pan of hot water. Used to turn out pretty good. Taking the hot vessel out of the boiling water, opening it carefully without singeing one’s fingers, the suspense of seeing whether the fish had cooked properly … all of this added to the fun.
Then folks from abroad suggested cooking it in the microwave. I was a bit wary as I wasn’t sure how the fish would react to microwaving. Once I followed a microwave bhaapa ilish recipe which used curd. Honestly, I preferred my doi posto ilish to it. Which is natural given that the fish here is fried and not steamed. Posto or poppy seeds add a certain headiness to it. And the dish was my own creation!
Today I decided to give the microwaved bhaapa ilish a shot again, I went back to the original recipe. Or what I remembered of it. I followed it barring a few exceptions. The original recipe used cream which I found a bit strange given that Bengal was a milk deficit state. Must have been the local influence on the expat writer. I use skimmed milk instead of cream.
Secondly, the recipe called for adding mustard oil. I don’t like mustard oil. I had stopped adding oil in my steamed hilsa a while back as the natural oil in the fish worked well enough. Thought I would go without oil in the microwave too.
No oil, no cream, so that’s fairly healthy huh?
Wasn’t sure of how long to cook it. This was 1045 at night. I quickly posted a question on twitter and on the finely chopped Facebook page and immediately got answers.
@Finelychopped depends on the power of your microwave, I usually do it for 4 minutes on each side on a 850W. Enjoy :)
I went ahead with the UK based Sanchita’s (Nutty Cook) recipe. Not just because she has married a fellow Karmakar as I once found out. But because I have no idea on the controls of the micro and what on earth was medium micro power!
So here’s my oil free microwave bhaapa ilish recipe:
- Blend a teaspoon each of ground black mustard seeds (shorshe) & turmeric powder, 1/2 a teaspoon each of salt and cumin (jeera) powder (not sure if this is traditional), paste of 3 green chillies & 3 tablespoons of skimmed milk.
- Pour this over 500g hilsa. At least for half an hour. In our case it was was for about 9 hours as Banu did the marinating in the afternoon
- Cover the microwave bowl with a lid. I used a plastic plate to cover it.
- Cook for 4 minutes on regular.
- Take the dish out. Gently turn the fish around. Add a couple of split chillies and a spoon of fresh coriander leaves to garnish
- Switch on the microwave for 3 more minutes. (7 minutes in total)
- That’s it
Eat this with steamed rice. The mustard and the ground chillies ad a certain pungency to it. The end result worked for both K and me. The fish was juicy. Cooked right. Not too piquant for K who can’t handle too much of mustard. And of course the quality of both the rui and ilish from Poonam at Khar Market this time was stellar.
I know this sort of thing interests Bongs so the price of Hilsa was Rs 400 a kilo. The size about 1.3 kilos. Not too many bones or kaatas.
Note: Never eat mustard based Bengali fish curries with pulao unlike what the sacrilegious photo on a web site recently showed. Plain rice always. Never drink a cola with mustard. You will get a sore tongue as the feisty mustard and carbonated bubbles of the cola collide.