Food: baked hilsha with pineapple [boishakhi anarosh ilish]
On the fourteenth of April every year starts the first day of another new Bengali year. This year it will be 1422. It is a solar calendar and therefore takes place on the same day every year. This day is celebrated in the Subcontinent through traditional food, colorful wear and decor, and lots of music and festivities. The first month is called Boishakh which heralds the bewildering tropical spring storms knows as the Kal-boishakhi. The new year is also called Pohela Boishakh meaning the first of Boishakh.
The national fish of Bangladesh is the Hilsha. A Bengali is incomplete without this fish. So on Pohela Boishakh this intensely flavorful fish is consumed at almost every Bengali household and eatery. Bangladeshis like me who live abroad also will manage to find this fish at the most remotest of conditions. So I will share this recipe that I shared and ate with my fellow Bangladeshi friends this weekend. I prepared a spice mixture and baked the fish in the cradle of a banana leaf with a top layering of sliced pineapples. In the image below you see the fish in its raw form with its beautiful flesh and the core revealing hilsha eggs. The hilsha egg is also a delicacy to eat and is immensely flavorful. Hilsha is also known to have a lot of tiny bones. But as they say back home, the more bones in a fish, the more flavorful it is. And I have found this to be absolutely true.
Now let us look how this dish is cooked,
I am writing the recipe for 8 hilsha steaks so it is easier for everyone to follow and double when necessary.
8 Hilsha Steaks :: 1 large onion thinly sliced :: 7/8 green chilies :: 1 cup yogurt
2 tbsp mustard seeds :: 2 tbsp poppy seeds :: 1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder :: mustard oil :: 3 pineapple slices :: banana leaf [optional] :: salt
Wash and let the fish steaks dry.
Take a glass tray and layer it with banana leaf. Banana leaves are also a traditional part of the Bengali culture. It is used not only to cook but also to eat on and for decoration. Layer the onion mixture and then nestle the fish steaks on top. Then cover the fish with pineapple steaks. I have used fresh pineapple but you can use canned ones that come precut.
Heat the oven at 375. Pour about 1/2 a cup of water on top of the pineapple and cover the tray with foil lightly and place the tray inside the oven . After about 30 minutes the water from the onions will fill the tray. Now take the foil off and let the fish continue cooking in the oven. Sometimes I will open the oven and with the use of a spoon distribute the liquid evenly over the fish pieces. The water will cook the fish and slowly thicken. This will happen in the next thirty minutes. Sometimes it may take longer. The fish does not take long to cook and since it will be baked the fish bones will almost become too soft to be eaten along with the fish. This dish is best served with steaming hot rice. Bon appetit and a happy new year [shubho nobo borsho].