Monday, July 19, 2021

Ilish Maacher Tauk -- heady memories


Ilish Tauk | Ilish Machher Tok | Hilsa Fish Chutney

Ilish Tauk | Ilish Machher Tok/Ambol | Hilsa Fish Chutney

Chutney, Ambol and Tok are the three different varieties of sour dishes in Bengal, the difference being in the sourness and thickness of the gravy in the dish. While Chutneys are the sweetest with a thick, sticky base, the ambol and tauk/tok are more sour and have a thinner gravy. Of all this, the Tauk(or Tok) is supposed to be the most sour. Since fish is abundant in Bengal, fish often features in a Tok or Ambol. Usually it's the tiny Mourala  which goes in a Tok or the fish head and tail of Hilsa (Ilish Macher Tok).  This tangy stew kinda dish is had as a last course, mixed with rice and supposed to have cooling effects in the hot summer.


Update: This post was originally done in2012. I am updating with new photos and more precise recipe in 2021.
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midst the umpteen other things that my Dida(maternal grandmother) cooked, there was an Ilish Macchher Tauk. Heads of ambrosial Ilish suspended in a thick, brown, sweet and syrupy liquid that was sweetened with jaggery and soured by ripe tamarind. To call it a "Hilsa Head Chutney" would be plain blasphemy.

It was a backstage kinda dish. I mean while the choicest pieces of Ilish were fried and served as is in a bhaja, the beautiful steak pieces steamed as a bhapa in clinging mustard sauce with fluffed white rice, the fish roe were fried and served with the tel and fresh green chili, the head and the tail led a sad life in waiting.

"Too many bones. Can't eat it", said the young girls in the family with a toss of freshly washed step-cut hair.

"Not enough meat in these pieces", said the grown up men who thought it beneath themselves to be served a lyaja -- a fish tail.

"Rohu heads are better. This has a strong smell", said the younger men, their faces till gentle, their opinion yet not chauvinistic.

And so the matha and the lyaja -- the fish head and the fish tail -- waited in my Dida's kitchen till she was done with the bhaja, the jhaal, the jhol. By then the sun was high up, the crows sitting on the Neem tree outside the kitchen were tired of all the cawing, the neighborhood cat had a princely meal of Ilish fish scales and was patiently waiting by the kaltala for the remains from the men's lunch plates who could never chew on the fish bones. The kaajer mashi--the house help-- Minoti'r Ma was hovering around the back door waiting to see which piece she would be taking home.

Ilish Tauk | Ilish Machher Tok | Hilsa Fish Tok

Ilish Mach er Tok/Ambol


It was then that my Dida opened up a green lidded plastic jar where lay a block of tamarind, brown, ripe and sticky wrapped in a piece of
Bartaman.
The matha and the lyaja heaved relief. They loved the tauk. They loved being in that tangy, sweet liquid where they were the stars of the dish.

Minoti'r Ma stopped fretting and came to sit by the stove. I kept telling Ma that I would have lunch later with Dida and the older women. Dida put the kadahi back on the unoon and poured some more Mustard Oil in it. Minoti'r Ma rubbed the tamarind in a bowl full of water to take out the seeds and make the "kaath". The water slowly turned a deep burnt sienna and the kadhai hissed with scarlet red chili and mustard seeds. The matha and lyaja nudged each other and smiled. Their moment had come. As they bubbled in the tamarind gravy of the tauk sweetened by jaggery I waited patiently for the last course of my meal. The Ilish maacher Matha'r tauk.

IlishTauk3

My Mother made this tauk way back in March when she was visiting. I merely hovered around in anticipation. She and I are the only ones in the family who will eat this dish nowadays. So I wait for her--to visit us---and amidst many other things to cook me a Ilish Maacher tauk.



Chutney, Ambol and Tok are the three different varieties of sour dishes in Bengal, the difference being in the sourness and thickness of the gravy in the dish. While Chutneys are the sweetest with a thick, sticky base, the ambol and tauk/tok are more sour and have a thinner gravy. Of all this, the Tauk(or Tok) is supposed to be the most sour. Since fish is abundant in Bengal, fish often features in a Tok or Ambol. Usually it's the tiny Mourala  which goes in a Tok or the fish head and tail of Hilsa (Ilish Macher Tok).  This tangy stew kinda dish is had as a last course, mixed with rice and supposed to have cooling effects in the hot summer.


Different souring agents like dried mango, raw green mango or tamarind is sued as a souring agent. My grandmother always made this dish with Tamarind and I use the same. Since my grandmother's version has a beautiful sweet and sour balance, and is not very sour, some may also refer to this is Ilish Macher Ambol.

Ilish Maacher Matha'r Tauk -- Hilsa Head in a sweet-sour gravy



Head of Hilsa Fish/Ilish er Maatha - 1 fish head, cut into medium pieces
Tail of Hilsa Fish/Ilish er Lyaaj - 1 fish tail


Tamarind - 1 ball of tamarind about 1-2" diameter
Dry Red Chilli - 2
Mustard seeds for tempering - 1 tsp
You can also use Paanchphoron for tempering

Turmeric powder - 2 tsp
Salt - to taste (about 1 tsp)
Sugar - 3/4th Cup
Bhaja Masla - 1/2 tsp

Mustard Oil - for frying fish

Prep





Clean head and tail piece of Hilsa. Pat dry.
Rub with 1 tsp Turmeric powder, 1 tsp of Mustard Oil and salt and then keep aside for 20 mins. 

Soak a round ball of ripe tamarind in 1/2 Cup warm water for 10-15 minutes. Rub to take the pulp out. Alternatively use 2 Tbsp of tamarind paste and mix with 1/2 Cup Warm water.

Fry the fish pieces








Heat Mustard Oil for frying fish. Hilsa fish releases a lot of its own oil on frying so I start off with say  approx. 1/4th Cup of Mustard oil.
When the oil is hot, sprinkle a little turmeric powder on the hot oil. I have seen this reduces the splattering.
Now lower the heat and gently slide in the fish head and tail pieces. Once all the fish pieces are in teh oil, increase the heat.
Fry pieces of Ilish till it is golden brown on both sides. Remove the fried fish head and tail.

Make the Tok




In the same kadhai/wok that you fried the fish, take out the excess oil and leave about 3 Tbsp of Mustard Oil.
Note: The rest of the oil will be used for another fish dish.

Temper Oil with 1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds(or Paanchphoron) + 2 Dry red Chili

Add the Tamarind paste water. Next add the fried fish head and mix it in. Cook for 2-3 minutes. 
Add about 1.5 cup water and bring to a simmer.

Add salt to taste and 3/4th Cup of sugar.
Simmer for the next 4-5 minutes. Taste and adjust for sugar and salt.

Sprinkle with some bhaja masla.

The Tok or Sour should not be thick like a chutney, the gravy will be thin enough to sip. Mix it with rice and enjoy

Similar recipes:

 Ilish Maacher Matha diye Ambol at KichuKhonn


48 comments:

  1. I so envy you. I still haven't figured out any place in Austin where I can get good fish. Living on the vacuum sealed flounder/tilapia/shrimps (am not a big fan of salmon, so dropped that one).
    Couple of days back used your recipe on kumro chingri boti, and it turned out so well. Posted it on my blog today, thank you once again for the amazing recipe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sudeshna, vacuum sealed keno ? Tilapia filet diye shorshe bata jhaal kintu besh bhalo hoy. Ar ekta swahi bole maach ache, oita diye amar ek bondhu darun jhaal etc. kore

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  2. UFFF... for a moment, I was a bengali, not just via my name..your writing evokes so much nostalgia...thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

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  3. At least in your family it is allowed to put jaggery in a tauk preparation. At my home it is sheer blasphemy. So I can never enjoy a tauk. It's like your teeth are melting due to the sharp acid od the tamarind. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

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    Replies
    1. Without the sweetness I could never have it !

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  4. u r just toooooo good , thank u !

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  5. No one can do it like you..hugs! As always, this post also took me to a different realm..you are amazing! Howz your cookery book coming along? Good luck! :)

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    Replies
    1. Yeah wrapping it up and that is the hardest. Next will be the edits. Thanks for the wishes

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  6. Bartaman! Bhulei giyechilam! Ki shundor laglo lekha ta pore Sandeepa ... ekhane eto gorom ar tomar dupurer description ekdom perfect. Ilisher muror ekta alada taste ache jeta ekbar craving shuru holey ki koshto ki koshto! :-)
    Ami o post korechi?!!! Thanks for the mention ... nijer e mone neyi.

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    1. Tumi to ekta maacher dim diye ambol o post korecho dekhlam. Oita kokhono khaini

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  7. You brought the matha and lyaja so much to life, their nudging each other was almost palpable. And the tastes and smells that this peice invoked, proves that technology is not necessarily the master at creating the "reality feel", a good author can do it with one stroke of their pen too!! Good luck with your writing!

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  8. That looks so delicious! Haven't tried tauk, though. Hope I could learn how to cook it as well. :)

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    Replies
    1. The cooking part of this is actually easy. But even i don't make it by myself

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  9. Ummm this looks so good,.na ya luved the way u wrote the post,,,

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  10. amader barite Ilish ele equal qty te jhal ar tauk hoy. baba tak chara bhat khayna. ar amadero khub bhalo lage.

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    Replies
    1. Amader baritey shudhu Ma ar ami khai :( tai temon hoy na

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  11. What is Bartaman? A magazine? At home, we've always added jaggery to a certain kind of tamarind gravy, but only to vegetables. Not all homes use jaggery, however, and one of my Uncles would make a point of telling his cook to use jaggery. Till one day the faithful cook also used it in fish curry! There is also a story about a cook who used vanilla essence in a chicken dish - that's for another day!

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    Replies
    1. Sra, yes I would always add sugar to vegetable based tamarind gravies and that was true back home as well. I have never seen it being added to fish.

      But fish head in the gravy was the most delicious. Here I can never find fish with head.

      This recipe does sound very tasty though.

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    2. Bartaman -- a regional newspaper. Vanilla in chicken must have been something

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  12. I can almost taste the tauk, like tamarind base dish. Only me and my dad enjoy the head, I guess eating the head needs experience because of bones. Very well narrated Sandeepa.

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    Replies
    1. on the contrary my Dad never eats the head

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  13. lovely, just looks wonderful... will surely try it out and being a fellow bong thousands of miles away from home.. ilish maach is just what I could do with :D

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  14. wow..sounds scrumptiously tasty..
    first time here maheswari..love your space..
    awesome presentation with nice recipes..Superb methods.
    Am your happy follower now..:)
    do stop by mine sometime..

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  15. Such a lovely writeup.. i felt like i was in your house and could see it all in action! Beautiful!!!

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  16. This is amazing..have not read such a good piece ina a long time. thank you for bringing back all the memories!
    Do you write in Bangla too?
    Kakali

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  17. What a lovely post! And the curry looks so tempting. I wonder if it would work with any fish head? Not sure if IIish is available here.

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    Replies
    1. Even I don't know if it will work with other fish head. Will check and see.

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  18. You have a lovely blog here. Just an update, you can substitute kacha Aam for the tamarind. You remind me of my grandma who was a great cook and a storage house of recipes.

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  19. I asked the hubby to read this peice - when he wasn't scrolling down at all, I asked why are you taking so long, scroll down...! He said "darao na, besh chibiye chibiye podhhchi"!!!! :-)

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  20. Tomar Ilish Mach ta ki fresh dekhte lagche. Satti, took me down memory lane and other special recipes that we miss so much. Would love to try some. Now I have to go looking for a whole Ilish Mach. Even I used to know a minoti and still know her ma. :)

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  21. Loved this post and remembered this long forgotten tauk. Whenever I used to visit my Dida "mourala macher tauk tetul diye" used to be my favorite one. Khub bhalo laglo arr nostalgic hoye porlam.

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  22. oh you are bringing out the memories of all those visits and stays at my two sets of grand parents! Kumro-begun-mulo-ranga aloo-bori diye tauk, kucho chingri ri touk, mourala macher tauk, ilish er matha ar lyaja diye tauk, rui katlar r o tauk..every lunch used to end up with some tamarind based tauk and every lunch would have some kind of posto...there used to be occasional presence of chutneys- again elaborate series of them..loved those days of pampered childhood...

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  23. My mom makes this dish! Love it!

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  24. The contents are really good…
    Gurgaonflowerplaza.com

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  25. Hi,

    I'm trying to do some research on the flavour profile of each region. What would you say are the typical flavours of Eastern Indian cuisine - sour, or mustard hot and sweet, sour...?

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    Replies
    1. No BEV, Sour is not really typical. Unlike Southern india where sour is predominant in Eastern india sour is restricted to just a dish to finish off the meal. Send me a mail and we can discuss this over there.

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  26. oh, you kill me with these pictures! i haven't had elish in eons! you cannot imagine how long my food list is for my trip to kolkata this year!

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  27. Very good recipe !!
    I will appreciate if you could share an easy (short cut) recipe to make Dhoka for Dhoka dalna
    THank you

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