Alu Begun Diye Ilish Macher Jhol is a simple, classic Bengali fish Broth cooked in thousands of Bengali kitchens every year in Monsoon. It takes less than 30 minutes to serve a meal for meditation 😂!
Why did I say meditation? Read about the Ilish section, and you will get the idea!
What is Ilish Macher Jhol Alu Begun Diye?
The straightforward answer is fish, Potato, and Eggplant poached in a savoury, slightly yellowish looking broth. But, this is not the right way to introduce the dish! Because without describing the ingredients and the cooking process in detail, it’s impossible to introduce this dish! So let me break it down for you!
What is Jhol?
Jhol is a Bengali style savoury liquid in which meat, egg, fish and vegetables would simmer. The common ingredients for Jhol are water and spices, though a few Jhol recipes call for aromatics like onion, ginger, garlic. Jhol is very similar to Broth but wouldn’t serve its own! It is mainly served with Rice, only Chicken and Mutton Jhol are served with Ruti/ Roti ( A type of Indian flatbread).
In Bengali cooking, we prefer to sautee the vegetables and pan-fry the fish first, and then we add in the liquid to simmer in the same pan. This method enhances the taste and flavour of the dish.
This Ilish Macher Jhol Alu Begun Diye is our family recipe. In our family the colour of this Jhol is brown. The brown colour comes from the ratio of spices, cooking method.
What goes in Ilish Macher Jhol Alu Begun Diye?
Ilish or Hilsa
Let’s talk about the star ingredient for this recipe. Ilish, also known as Hilsa.It is a costly fish, and there are reasons for it!
Flavour and texture – Ilish has a stellar combination of flavours and soft texture. Due to its smooth oily texture and an explosion of flavours, it is considered the tastiest fish in southeast Asia and called Macher Raja ( king of fish) by Bengalis. It is the national fish of Bangladesh.
In Bengali households, the Monsoon feast without Ilish is like a Christmas feast without Ham and Turkey! And that’s why during monsoon season (late June to August), immigrants Bengalis try to visit their nearby Bangladeshi shop to buy frozen Hilsa.
But what if you don’t get Hilsa at your place? Is there a substitute for Hilsa?
In the Western countries, immigrant Bengalis, those who don’t get Hilsa, try to recreate their nostalgia for Hilsa with Salmon. Shorshe Bhapa Salmon is a very popular dish among Bengali immigrant communities. The life cycle of Hilsa is very similar to Salmon. First, they start their life in the sea, and then they come to breed in delta water and then move to sea again!
During the Monsson season in Bengal, Hilsa comes to spawning in the delta waters where the rivers meet the Bay of Bengal. Many of Hilsa caught this time are big in roe, which is a delicacy on its own! The simplest form of cooking Ilish is frying. Therefore, Ilish Bhaja must serve as an entree for a Monsoon special Bengali feast! Bhapa Ilish, Ilish Paturi are the most popular Ilish recipes.
Bony fish- It is a bony fish. If you don’t pay full attention to removing the bone every time before putting it in your mouth, the fishbone would stick in the throat. Which is not at all a great experience. That’s why some people are scared to eat Ilish or Hilsa. So, to avoid this situation, try not to mix the fish with anything else. If you are not pro to eat bony fish, don’t hesitate to take it on a side plate. Remove bone gradually and savour the taste of the fish.
But, if there is a fishbone stuck in your throat, make a small ball with cooked rice and swallow it. Alternatively, you can eat cooked potato as well, or you can gulp a small portion of Banana!
I am sure now you understand why I said you need to do meditation while eating Hilsa. 😁
Let’s talk about Oil! There is no substitute for Mustard oil to cook traditional Bengali Ilish recipes. Mustard oil has a pungent taste, but because it has a high smoking point, it is perfect for high heat cooking like frying, grilling, roasting. It is our favourite cooking oil. When the spices mix with this oil at the right temperature, it helps you create magic in your kitchen. But, you need to know the right way to add the spices, else the entire dish will be ruined and taste bitter.
For this recipe, instead of adding all the oil, I prefer to add oil to every step of frying Fish and veggies.
What do you call it? Eggplant? Brinjal or Aubergine? We call it Begun in Bengali. Globe eggplants or American eggplants that we mostly get in our supermarket. So I use them for my cooking. While frying, Eggplant soaks a lot of oil. But, they release all the oil when you add them to a gravy or Broth. So many people prefer to bake eggplants. But for Jhol or curry, I prefer to fry Eggplant separately with enough oil. Not much or less!
My Thakuma (grandmother) used to add potato wedges in this Jhol. And we all loved it, so I added Potatoes in my Ilish Beguner Jhol. And who knows, a piece of potato could become a saviour for me if there is a bone stuck in my throat. 😁
Try to use the potatoes which you use for Baking and roasting. For example, here in Australia, I use Nicola and kestrel potatoes for any Jhol recipes.
When it comes to adding aromatics and spices to this Jhol, less is better!
- Whole spice- Nigella seeds are the only whole spice we are going to add to this recipe. These are tiny black seeds with a slightly bitter and pungent taste. But have a distinct flavour and is perfectly paired with green chillies and Mustard oil. Trust me, when you add Nigella seeds and Green chillies to the smoky hot mustard oil, you create a flavour explosion in your kitchen.
- Ground spices- The typical ground spices in Indian cooking are cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chilli. We need all of them for this recipe but in minimal quantities. We have to make sure the flavour of the spices shouldn’t dominate the flavour of the fish.
How to make it?
Here is the detailed step by step recipe.
Ilish Macher Jhol Alu Begun Diye
- 6 pieces Hilsa - ~ 530 gm
- 2 medium-sized Potato - ~ 250 gm – cut into wedges
- 200 gm Eggplant - ~ cut into 8-10 wedges
- 4-6 Green Chillies - slits
- ¾ tsp Onion Seeds
- ½ tsp Coriander powder
- ½ tsp Cumin powder
- 2 tsp Turmeric powder
- ½ tsp Red chilli
- ⅓ cup Mustard oil - or 80 ml
- Salt to taste
- Smear ¾ tsp turmeric powder and salt on the fish pieces and set aside.
- In a bowl, add all ground spices, about ½ tsp of salt and turmeric powder, add a little bit of water to make a slurry.
- Heat 4 tbsp of oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, once the oil is smoky hot, reduce the heat to low.
- Add in the fish pieces, increase the heat to medium and fry each side for one minute, do not overcook the fish. Otherwise, it will become chewy. Then remove from oil.
- In the same pan heat about 3 tbsp of oil. Add Eggplant pieces, sprinkle ¼ tsp of turmeric and salt, fry the eggplant pieces till they develop golden brown colour. Remove from the pan.
- Next, add the remaining oil into the pan, once the oil is hot, add Nigella seeds, two green chillies and keep stirring for about ten seconds to release the aroma.
- Add potato, remaining turmeric powder, salt for the potato and over medium heat cook for 2-3 minutes to develop a crispy brown colour on the outer side of the potatoes.
- Add the spice slurry and a little bit of water, mix everything, and continue cooking until oil releases from the mixture over medium heat.
- Add 1 cup of water to the mixture, bring the temperature to high heat and bring the broth to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add fish and fried eggplant, cover with a lid, and simmer everything together for about 4-5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, give 10 minutes standing time.