This Hilsa fish with plantain and potato in mildly spiced gravy! Ilish Maach Kacha Kola Jhol is not one of those rich fish curries. Instead, it’s light on the tummy and tastes very comforting with steamed white rice.
Growing up, I didn’t like seafood that much but Ilish Maach was always a favorite. We would get excited at the sound of Ilish and no celebratory meal seemed to be complete without the presence of Ilish Maach. Hilsa, as it is known in English, is just not any fish but it’s more of an emotion, a cultural icon to us Bengalis. There are even events organized in Kolkata focusing on this particular fish.
Hilsa Fish is an acquired taste!
Hilsa is a freshwater, soft white fish that is rich in Omega-3-fatty acid. People either love it or hate it. It has a beautiful aroma and that can come across as ‘fishy’ for people who are not used to the smell. It also has lots of very tiny bones, which makes it challenging to eat but we Bengalis somehow learn the skill of picking bones at a very early age. My husband, who didn’t grow up eating this fish, eventually learnt the technique from me and thankfully, he too enjoys Ilish.
Typical season for Hilsa fish is during the monsoon but a recent study has shown that over-exploitation is increasing the risk of Hilsa extinction. You can read all about it here.
Ilish Maach Kacha Kola Jhol
Because of the delicate aroma of the fish, I avoid adding too much spices to it when preparing the curry. I let the flavor of the fish shine through. This fish is first fried in mustard oil before adding it to the curry. While frying the fish, make sure the oil is very hot or else, the fish could stick at the bottom of the pan. Also, be very careful when you fry Ilish as it tends to splatter oil at times. So, no kids should be around.
If you can’t find or don’t like Hilsa, you can try the same curry with catfish or kingfish. But in that case, do add more spices of your choice or else, it might taste a little bland. Unless, you don’t mind the mild spiced taste.