the Colonial Raj
Excuse me for speeding! I’m on a mission. I’m on the look out for one single dish which captures the essence of each of my favorite cities. Surely! It cant be Bhelpuri for Mumbai? Though it is a lot like the city itself, it’s tangy, crisp, sour, sweet, squishy…but it doesn’t distil the high-end, highrise glossy life or Bombay- to- Mumbai’s chequered history. And here in Kolkata my heartbeat is quickening with joy. Here, many centuries coexist seamlessly. Here, in this undecipherable amalgam of modernity and oldness, human warmth and apathy, rickshaws and limousines throbs the soul of the city which I love. Sure it is proudly Bengali, it is multi-cultural but it still hark backs to the Colonial Raj. And here amidst all this cacophony and glamour I hit the jackpot. I find that one dish which distils the Bengali heartbeat and the cosmopolitan nature.
Sure! Enough this dish has stood the test of time. Its recipe has been passed down generations of masterchefs. And time stands still in the Historic handsome Oberoi Grand with it’s stucco ornamentation, colonnaded verandahs and balconies. The glory and style of the Raj coexists seamlessly with modernization. Here I trip out on Chef Saurav Banerjee’s “smoked Hilsa” a masterful combination of the Ilish (Hilsa) fish which every Bengali loves done to a very Anglo-Indian style. Having studied in the prestigious catering college of West Bengal, opened many a restaurant around the country, Chef Banerjee has also traveled the world working in Singapore and London.. He brilliantly executes this dish.
This recipe probably existed way back in the early nineteenth century when the site of the hotel was the private residence of a Colonel Grand, which went on to be converted into a boarding house by Mrs. Annie Monk, bought over by Arathoon Stephen an Armenian from Isfahan who redeveloped the site into an extravagant neoclassical style which looks like the hotel today. The hotel soon became a popular spot amongst the English population of Calcutta. It was known, in particular, for its annual New Year party with iced champagne and expensive gifts and for sure this smoked Hilsa dish. Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi took over and bought this property in 1939 and it stands handsomely and serenely in the cacophony of Chowringhee. A meal at the multi-cuisine all day dining restaurant,a authentic Thai restaurant, a dip in the limpid blue pool in the heart of the hotel are some of the must-dos. The dapper dynamic George Kuruvilla ensures that history and modernity do a memorable tango and this dish of Smoked Hilsa is the epitome of both.
THE GRAND SMOKED HILSA
The intensely flavored Ilish or Hilsa has been the Bengali favorite (and mine) forever. Chef Banerji very thoughtfully provides substitutes for it (though we both agree that no fish can really match it in texture or flavor). Ditto for the Bengali mustard paste…kasundi. However you can always use any other ready mustard paste. Try it and be transported to the most historic and legendary of Kolkata’s Grand landmark. One bite of it’s smoky-tender-firmness and the flavor of Kolkata with it’s centuries of colorful history will seduce you. A truly unique legendary dish from a Grand legend.
Smoked hilsa (if hilsa not available you may substitute with rawas or sole) fillet 250gm, Baby potato 4 to 6/ Baby carrot3 to 4/ Broccoli 2 small florets/ Baby corn2/ Chopped parsley A small bunch,
Salt 2gm/ Cracked pepper1gm/ Kasundi mustard sauce 2tbsp (can be substituted by any ready mustard paste).
For the sauce
Fish stock 2cups/ Kasundi 1tbsp/ Butter 2 tbsps, Cream Half a cup,
·Take out the hilsa fillet and put it in a pre-heated 180 degrees medium oven till its nicely hot.
·Par boil all the vegetables and season with salt and pepper.
·Sprinkle chopped parsley on the vegetables and arrange it in a plate.
·Place the fillet carefully on the plate and pour the kasundi mustard sauce on it.
·For the sauce reduce the stock to 50%. Add the kasundi mustard.
·Take it off the fire and whisk in the cream and the butter.
METHOD FOR SMOKING
Hilsa fillet de skinned 350gm, 2) Anchovy 5 gm, (use tinned anchovy 1 small piece,) 3)Kasundi mustard 2tsp, 4)Refined oil 2tsp,
5) Lemon juice 1tsp, 6) Salt to taste.
· Remove the scales from the fish and cut out the fillets. In a large container take cloves on a burning ember of coal and pour ghee on it.Trap that smoke . Chef uses ·mango wood dust for smoking but he has given the coal alternative for home cooking. .
Marinate the fillet with (anchovy, kasundi, oil, lemon juice and salt) the ingredients no. 2 – 6 and leave it for one hour.
·Cook the fillet in a pre heated oven.
·De bone the fillet by taking out strips vertically from the fillet.
·Remove the bones feeling them with the knife.
·Join back the strips and cling wrap the fillet carefully, ( should you want to, you can store this smoked hilsa for 4 to 6 days too)