Apparently the best and the most precious Ilish (Hilsa) comes from the river Padma of Bangladesh. Pôdda is the Bengali name for the same river.
When I moved to Canada, I wasn’t quite surprised that I got to eat better Ilish here than in India (Bihar and Delhi). Obviously the best produce of any country is exported to the western countries. Plus the Ilish we get here from the Bangladeshi store in Danforth is straight from Padma rather than the Rupnarayan River in Kolaghat.
The best quality of Ilish is known by its silver skin, which almost scintillates to your touch. Its scales are softer compared to a Rohu or Katla, two other voraciously consumed river fish by the Bengalis.
A fresh Ilish’s taste is the avatar of butter. Silken and oily, Ilish has a distinct taste, probably from the freshwater plankton it feeds on. You don’t have to be an Ilish connoisseur to quickly separate a fresh from a not-so-fresh Ilish. The latter will become chewy and also not have its deep and distinct flavor.
I do not know what exactly the word “Paturi” means. But the connotation is “steamed” or bhapa. Traditionally, Paturi is made by wrapping the fish in fresh banana leaves and steaming it. Though I do get to eat the best quality Ilish in Canada, I am not quite close to finding banana leaves (or a tree!) in layers of snow outside. Thus I am forced to settle with something that every city-dweller has convenient access to. The microwave.
Oh, a rather important thing about Ilish, please do not “thoroughly” wash Ilish. You will just wash off all its flavor and taste. Ideally the scales of the fish are first removed, then the whole fish is washed and cut. But if you get your fish monger to cut the fish for you, bring it home and only lightly wash the pieces.
Ingredients for Ilish Maacher Paturi are:
4-6 slices of Ilish
Half teaspoon + 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
4-5 heaped tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon khus khus/posto/poppy seeds
2.5 tablespoons plain yogurt
5 + 7-8 green chilies
5-6 tablespoons mustard oil
Grind to a smooth paste the mustard seeds, poppy seeds, half teaspoon turmeric powder and 4-5 green chilies. Use little water to wet grind. What I do is, first dry grind the mustard and poppy seeds and then introduce the green chilies with very little water to get the smooth consistency.
Slobber the spice mixture on the fish. Add the yogurt, slice lengthwise the remaining green chilies and add them too. Top the fish pieces up with a teaspoon of turmeric powder, salt and drizzle the mustard oil. With a small spatula, evenly coat everything onto the fish pieces.
Cover with a cling wrap and keep for at least 10 minutes. Microwave the fish for 10 minutes.