‘Tel jhol’ is the name given to a light Bengali curry, which is infused with flavours of kaalo jeere, green chillies, and sharp mustard oil. Because it is sparsely spiced, this style of curry doesn’t overpower the star ingredient—the fish—but lets it shine on its own. Needless to say, it is designed to bring out the flavours of the fresh ilish in all their glory. If you have under 30 minutes and a batch of fresh ilish, this should be your go-to curry.
Ilish or hilsa is, however, is facing extinction due to high demand and overfishing. While policy initiatives between India and Bangladesh are underway to tackle this alarming situation (hilsa conservation depends a great deal on water flow in the Padma-Meghna and Hooghly-Bhagirathi river systems), we can do our bit too. We can be mindful not to buy any hilsa that is under 500 g / 25 cm. Catching of hilsa before the spawning stage is detrimental to the progression of the next generation. It is equally important also to not buy hilsa during the breeding season (especially October to November, but even better, until March). In 2016, Bangaldesh was able to increase its hilsa yield by 50 per cent by putting measures in place to ban fishing in the breeding season. It also laid down and imposed specifications for net size to prevent the catching of juvenile hilsa. There is a need to create more consciousness about the importance of conserving a fish that is perhaps Bengal’s greatest cultural icon.
How can you help?
- Don't to buy any hilsa that is under 500 g / 25 cm. Catching of hilsa before the spawning stage is detrimental to the progression of the next generation.
- It is equally important also to not buy hilsa during the breeding season (especially October to November, but even better, until March).
- 500 g ilish machh (hilsa fish, 3-cm-thick pieces)
- 100 g brinjal (5cm chunks)
- 40 g mustard oil (for cooking and garnish)
- 5 pcs green chillies (slit)
- ¼ tsp kaalo jeere (nigella seeds)
- 18 g salt
- 6 g turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp atta (flour)
- 350 ml hot water
- Marinate the fish with ¾ tsp salt and ¾ tsp turmeric powder, and set aside.
- Cut the brinjal into 5-cm chunks and slit the green chillies.
- Before you begin, also make a paste of 18 g salt, 6 g turmeric, and 50 g water.
- Heat 35 g mustard oil in a pan till it starts to smoke lightly and changes colour to a pale yellow. Add the brinjal and fry them till they are golden. On medium heat, this should take about 4 minutes. Drain from the oil and set aside.
- Now, lower the fish pieces into the oil one by one and fry them for a minute on each side. Delicately flavoured fish such as the ilish does not need heavy searing, so fry very lightly. Remove from the oil and set aside.
- Temper the same oil with kaalo jeere and 3 green chillies. Add the salt and turmeric mixture we prepared earlier. Fry until the smell of raw turmeric is gone. This should take about 6 to 7 minutes.
- Add 350 ml hot water. This will form the curry. Once it has come to a full boil, add the fried brinjal and allow it to bubble in the curry for about 2 minutes. Then, gently lower the fried fish. Be careful while stirring at this point because the fish is fragile and might break.
- Boil on medium heat for about 5 minutes, after which take 2 tablespoons of the curry into a small bowl along with a couple of the softened green chillies. Add ¼ tsp of atta to this and mix everything until uniform. Mash the green chillies to release heat and flavour. Add this mixture back to the pan. Drizzle with 5 g of raw mustard oil and bubble for about 2 more minutes before serving.