Cast away the monsoon blues at Hilsa festival hosted by The Park Hotel, Kolkata
In Bengal, seasons are often known, and tolerated, for their gastronomic allurements. Oppressive summers are known for juicy mangoes, while monsoon miseries are compensated for by the hilsa.
The queen of fishes makes Bengalis forget flooded streets, potholes and puddles, squelching back home in soggy shoes, the occasional influenza and even the deadly dengue.
This one of a kind, silver carp, which lives in the sea but breeds in the river, is the undisputed queen of fishes for most Bengalis. Whether fried, or steamed, or cooked in a light gravy with brinjals for company, the hilsa has no rival, when it comes to its unique smell and taste.
To celebrate the monsoons, The Park Hotel, Kolkata, has come up with a month-long festival, Ilish Utsav. Though the hotel organises Ilish festival almost every year, and the spread is elaborate and experimental (there are dishes as experimental as Hilsa Teriyaki), this year, they have decided to stick to the rules and keep the menu simple and small.
"We consciously decided not to tamper with the inherent taste of hilsa and serve it the way Bengalis cook them at home – traditional and simple. Experiments with hilsa always end up with the conclusion that the original and traditional recipes are the best. That's how people prefer it, after all," smiles executive chef of The Park Hotel, Kausik Saha.
True to the chef's words, the dishes -- from the starters to the main course -- were traditionally cooked and tasted heavenly. The starters consisting of fried hilsa and hilsa paturi, were cooked to perfection. The fried hilsa was crispy yet tender, retaining the flavour, which was not overpowered by the mustard oil. The white rice and yellow dal along with the soft, oily, rotund brinjal fry complemented the hilsa fry to the hilt.
The Hilsa Paturi wove magic with the right consistency of the gravy made with mustard seeds, green chillies, coconut and a dash of curd to give a touch of sour. Wrapped inside a banana leaf, the piece of fish was tender and juicy. The mustard gravy was not too pungent and didn't create much trouble for our tummies.
"The mustard paste is prepared with a mix of black and yellow mustard seeds. The trick is in the proportion. For the paturi, for every 800 gms of yellow mustard seeds we use 200 gms of black ones. The black mustards add pungency to the gravy, while the yellow ones lend the creamy texture. The curd used shouldn’t be too sour," adds Saha.
It was followed by Begun Ilish, an immortal dish in any Bengali household. For those, who do not like the strong, piquant taste of mustard, begun ilish, or hilsa cooked with brinjal, is the tasty alternative to relish the fish. This light yet delicious gravy cooked with black cumin seeds, green chillies, freshly ground and roasted cumin powder and ginger juice, enhances the flavour and taste of the succulent hilsa many times more and can be eaten at any time of the day without guilt.
Then came the Doi e Bhapa Ilish, hilsa soaked in tangy gravy of curd and mustard seeds, cooked to perfection with slices of green chillies. The dish is akin to Ilish Paturi, having the same ingredients more or less, but what distinguishes it from the latter is again the proportion of mustard seeds used. “Here, we use black and yellow mustard seeds in equal proportions to enhance the sharpness in taste,” informs Saha.
For those fish lovers outside Bengal, who are still uninitiated to the taste of hilsa and apprehensive about cooking it, the chef has a few tips. The fish must be kept in the refrigerator for at least a couple of days before cooking. This lets the oils accumulate, rendering the fish tastier. “Also, never over fry hilsa or overcook it in the gravy. This drains the moisture out of the fish and makes it crumbly and dry,” advises Saha.
The fare ended on a sweet note with Nolen Gurer Ice Cream. Our verdict is a perfect ten on ten for not playing around too much with the taste of hilsa and retaining the home cooked flavour.
What: Ilish Utsav
Where: The Park Hotel, Kolkata
When: Till August end, dinner and lunch
Prices: Rs 2,500 (without alcohol)