This Ilish Maacher Dimer Tenga is my absolute favourite. Its rich colour and a pleasant sweet-n-sour taste is quite unlike Bengali fish preparations. Often, a traditional Assamese thali-style meal culminates with a Tenga dish. An incredibly easy recipe with fish, the Assamese Tenga has many versions. You can experiment with any kind of fish in a Tenga, though I personally feel that Ilish or Hilsa works the best because the acid from the sour gravy acts as a tenderiser too and tends to soften the huge network of fish bones that otherwise makes eating Hilsa a challenge for many. I have made the same Tenga with Katla fish too, called Masor Tenga in Assamese, and served it to my Sunday-lunch guests. They appreciated the dish very much! This Tenga can be made with any fish egg: the drier and harder kinds (like Rohu or Katla eggs) work extremely well as these get softened and moistened because of the Tenga juices.
But today, I cooked the dish with fish eggs, and Hilsa or Ilish eggs are of course the best when you talk of fish roe. I scooped out the big cluster of eggs from my 2.5 kg Ilish and preferred to cook these eggs separately as a delectable Tenga dish. This time, the aromatic Ilish slices (minus the eggs) were turned into pungent Ilish Paturi. If you follow my social-media posts, you already know that I had this mustard-paste-smeared and banana-leaf-enveloped Ilish Paturi for today’s lunch.
The Ilish Maacher Dimer Tenga has been tucked away in the fridge, only to be taken out for the dinner. When it is raining that bad and you know that you can’t venture out soon for non-veg shopping as well as for groceries, plus there are strong chances of 2005 floods reappearing soon, you need to plan your meals and save your ingredients smartly. I am content that I could make two separate dishes from a single fish. In that way, I saved a batch of fish slices for another day’s meal. This Tenga using only fish eggs is flavourful enough to make my family’s dinner worthwhile.
There are several kinds of souring agents that people traditionally use to make Tenga. I used a mixture of tamarind paste and tomatoes. Others prefer Chalta (Elephant Apple), Lemon or Thekera (dried Mangosteen) too!
A 2.5 kg Ilish or Hilsa fish costs atleast Rs 4,000 in Mumbai, but still, all get sold out in no time. We don’t care about the insane number of fine bones that this beauty has, because the rich flavour and the aroma compensate for the bones. For a Bengali, its roe is of the same level of respect as caviar. Respecting the immense flavour that Ilish eggs can impart to a dish, here is my version of the Assamese Tenga!
Ilish Maacher Dimer Tenga (A Tangy Assamese Hilsa Roe Dish)
- Hilsa or Ilish eggs: 250 g
- Desi tomatoes: 5
- Tomato puree: 2 tbsp
- Jaggery: 2 tbsp
- Tamarind paste: 2 tbsp
- Whole green chillies optional: 3
- Black mustard seeds big-seeded mustard seeds only: Little less than ½ tsp
- Mustard oil: ½ cup
- Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
- Salt: 1.5 tsp and more if needed
- Warm water: 2 cups
- Marinate the egg cluster with ½ tsp each of salt and turmeric powder. Let this rest for 10 min.
- In a “non-reactive” pan, heat mustard oil till smoke comes out of it. Reduce the flame and add the whole cluster of fish roe and immediately cover the pan. Be careful at this stage since the eggs keep bursting and the hot oil sputters out suddenly.
- After 5 min, switch off the flame and wait for a few seconds. Turn the egg cluster upside down and lightly press down with the spoon. Cover the lid and switch on the flame: keep on a medium flame this time. Cook for 7 min.
- Switch off the flame again. After a few seconds, open the lid and remove the fried egg on a plate. Once it cools down just enough to handle, cut it into bite-sized pieces. You might find uncooked egg on the inside part, but don’t worry as we have to fry this again.
- Switch on the gas and once again heat the oil till it smokes. Add the cut Ilish roe in batches. Fry lightly for around 3 min, turning the pieces over once.
- Remove on a plate.
- In the same hot oil, add mustard seeds and wait for a few seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, rest of the salt and turmeric powder and give it a mix. Cover the pan.
- After 10 min, add the tomato puree and tamarind paste. Stir the mixture and cover again. Let it come to a boil.
- Open the lid and add the jaggery. Mix and allow to oil for around 2 min.
- Check the balance of sweet and sour flavours. It should be distinctly sour with a hint of sweetness. If it is too sour, you may add extra jaggery, buy don’t overdo it. Always add in very small amounts.
- Add the fried Hilsa roe and the green chillies now. Cook for 5 min and then add the water. Cover and boil the Tenga for 10 more minutes.
- This is to be eaten with steamed rice and served at the end of the meal (before the desserts, of course).