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. This Hilsa fish with plantain and potato in mildly spiced gravy!
Breaking down the name - Ilish Maach Kacha Kola Jhol
Ilish Maach is Hilsa
Kacha Kola is plantain
Jhol is light curry
Ilish Maach is emotion for Bengalies
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.
Ilish Maach 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.
Substitute for Ilish maach
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.
Ilish Maach Kacha Kola Jhol
- 6 hilsa steaks
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 2 plantains
- 1 potato
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- mustard oil for deep frying the fish steaks
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
- 2 to 3 green chilli
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- Massage the fish steaks with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon turmeric and keep aside for a while.
- Cut the plantains (no need to peel) in big chunks lengthwise and place it on a pan. Add ½ teaspoon salt and lemon juice. Pour enough water to submerge the plantain chunks and place it on high heat. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium, cover the pan and let it boil for about 10 to 15 minutes or until it can be poked using a fork without applying pressure. Drain the boiled plantains and let it cool down completely.
- Peel the plantain and discard it. Cut the boiled plantain chunks into thin wedges.
- Peel the potato and slice it into thin wedges.
- Place a heavy bottom saucepan at high heat and pour the mustard oil, about 1 inch from the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is smoking hot, slide in the marinated fish steak very carefully. Watch out as it might splatter. Make sure no kids are around. Let the fish fry for 1 minute and then, carefully flip and cook for 1 minute. Once done, take if off the pan into a separate plate.
- To prepare the curry, you could either use the same pan or a different pan. If you are using the same pan, keep only 1 tablespoon of oil and remove excess. Sprinkle the nigella seeds and once it starts to sizzle, drop the potato wedges. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon turmeric. Stir around and cook for 2 minutes.
- Drop the plantain wedges followed with cumin and coriander powder. Stir around and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add the green chilli, pour 2 cups of water and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the plantain and potato wedges are cooked through.
- Add the fried fish steaks very gently (as the fish is very soft) to the curry. Flip it around to coat the gravy carefully. Cook for 2 minutes. Also, check for salt and add any, if needed.
- Serve warm with steamed white rice.